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Arizona softball sweeps Utah to begin Pac-12 play

The Wildcats head to Washington next weekend to take on the No. 1-ranked Huskies

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

Backed by a seven-run fourth inning, the Arizona softball team came from behind to beat Utah 10-3 on Sunday to finish the home sweep of the Utes.

The ninth-ranked Wildcats improve to 24-3 overall and 3-0 in the Pac-12. Utah falls to 14-10 and 0-3, respectively. The Utes led 3-0 before UA’s big inning.

“To spot someone three runs and come back, that’s a good trait to have,” said Arizona coach Mike Candrea.

Malia Martinez doubled in Dejah Mulipola to kick off Arizona’s ourburst in the fourth, then a Joelle Krist RBI single made it a 3-2 ballgame.

Hillary Edior singled to load the bases, then, on a 10-pitch at-bat, Alyssa Palomino smacked a two-run double to put UA up 4-3.

Reyna Carranco tacked on a sac fly, and Jessie Harper capped the inning off with a screaming two-run homer off the batter’s eye in center.

Dejah Mulipola then launched a three-run homer in the sixth to put Arizona up 10-3.

Arizona tallied 14 hits in all. Seven of them went for extra bases. It was the second straight game UA rallied from behind to beat Utah.

“I think the big thing today is we came out and swung the bats, which you need to on Sundays,” Candrea said. “I’m very, very pleased with where we’re at right now.”

Taylor McQuillin picked up her 16th win, allowing three runs (one earned) on nine hits in a complete-game effort. The junior left-hander struck out seven and walked two.

“Obviously our team is super excited,” McQuillin said. “Starting off with a sweep in Pac-12 (play), that’s how you want to start off. That’s how we started off last year and it really carried momentum in.”

Utah strung together three hits in the first inning to produce the game’s first run, then added two more in the third — one via an error, and another via an RBI double by Alyssa Palacios.

“Shaky starts come from letting the game get a little quick on us,” McQuillin said. “I think that’s what happened in the first inning. The No. 2 batter got a bloop single, then they strung a couple hits together so we just gotta keep going out there and performing. Yesterday’s game was a great example of that too. We put up three runs, they came back and put up four. That’s what’s going to happen in the Pac-12. That’s how the conference works.”

McQuillin pitched in all three games of the series. She got the win in games one and three, and a save in game two. Her ERA now sits at 0.75 on the season. The left-hander has 135 strikeouts in 102 innings.

“I think every time you pitch against a team, especially when you play a three-game series, they all know who you are by day three, so you gotta come out stronger every single game,” she said.

Martinez went 4-for-4 with two doubles. The redshirt freshman went 1-for-14 at the plate to start the season, but has upped her average to .423.

Candrea called the first-year third baseman’s progression “fabulous.”

“She spent her time behind [Katiyana Mauga], has gotten an opportunity, and has swung the bat well, played good defense, couldn’t ask for something more,” he said.

Harper’s homer was her team-high 10th of the season, while Mulipola’s was her eighth. The Wildcats lead the nation in home runs per game.

“Dejah’s a very good player,” Candrea said of his sophomore catcher. “She plays the game hard, works hard every week. Fabulous tools. If she was a guy, she’d be a bonus baby. A catcher that can hit and throw, does a good job behind the plate. We knew had someone special when we got Dejah. She hasn’t let us down from her freshman year on.”

Up next

Arizona will travel to Seattle next weekend for a three-game series against the No. 1 Washington Huskies.

The Huskies are 29-1 this season and lead the Pac-12 in hits, ERA, and fielding percentage. Their first loss came Saturday at ASU.

“Washington is a very solid team. Good pitching, good hitting, good defense. They play really well at home. Tough place to play just like Hillenbrand is,” Candrea said.

Candrea listed UCLA, Oregon, and Washington as three of the toughest places to play in the Pac-12 (along with Hillenbrand Stadium, of course).

“The weather, the fans are right on top of you, the way the stadium is built, and right now they’ve just got some quality kids,” he said of Washington. “They’ve got some kids who are playing on the national team, they have a freshman pitcher from Australia who’s pretty good. So yeah, we’ll enjoy this one and start getting ready for them Monday.”

Arizona swept Washington in Tucson last season, but Candrea expects a much different series this time around.

“It’s a challenge to walk in and to be competitive in this league,” he said. “You have to take care of your home field and try to go on the road, and if you can win two out of three it’s a blessing.”

Postgame interview

Arizona Softball completed the sweep against Utah today. Here is what Coach Candrea had to say afterward.

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, March 18, 2018

McQuillin establishing inner half

McQuillin is having a career year this season, seeing her ERA drop from 1.92 as a sophomore to 0.75 as a junior.

Candrea thinks the left-hander’s drop-ball and off-speed pitches have been better, but said the biggest reason for her improvement is her newfound ability to command the inside part of the plate.

“Hitters can’t sit away, away, away,” he said. “She’s right where she needs to be.”

Candrea also credited new pitching coach Taryne Mowatt for McQuillin’s progression.

“I think Taryne has been a really good match for our pitchers,” he said. “She’s been in the circle, she has a good demeanor. she can teach the game. she understands what it’s like.

“If you remember watching her in the College World Series, she didn’t throw the changeup until she needed to at the end of the game. She understands that and she really calls a good game. I’ve been very impressed with her.”

Alyssa Denham started game two of the series for Arizona, and surrendered four unearned runs in four innings, before being relieved by McQuillin.

Denham, who transferred in from Louisiana-Lafayette, is 4-1 with a 1.76 ERA in 39.2 innings this season. Freshman Hanah Bowen is 4-1 with a 3.34 ERA in 29.1 innings.

Lineup shuffling

Arizona outscored Utah 23-8 in the series, but Candrea is still sorting out the lineup.

He moved first baseman Alyssa Palomino to the leadoff spot because of her penchant for getting on base, and shifted the hot-hitting Martinez up one spot to fifth in favor of right fielder Aleah Craighton.

So Arizona’s lineup looked like this Sunday:

  • Alyssa Palomino, 1B
  • Reyna Carranco, 2B
  • Jessie Harper, SS
  • Dejah Mulipola, C
  • Malia Martinez, 3B
  • Aleah Craighton, RF
  • Joelle Krist, DP
  • Carli Campbell, LF
  • Ashleigh Hughes, CF

“If they want to start us off by walking [Palomino], I have a lot of confidence in Reyna,” Candrea explained. “Reyna is a kid that really is under-appreciated as a player. She swings the bat very well, she bunts really well. She can do a little short game if you need it. But I think she has been a real key right now. And then you get Harper going and Mulipola going, and today I moved Martinez up in the order, moved Aleah Craighton down one and it seemed to work a little bit.

“But Craighton is so close to getting things put together. I think once we get her going you’ll see that lineup being a little deeper, but I can’t argue with the runs we put up this week.”

Candrea also said the designated player spot is “wide open.” Edior started there Friday and Saturday, while Krist started there Sunday. Ivy Davis and T Statman also get at-bats there.

“We’re just trying to find someone who can give us a little consistency,” Candrea said. “And that’s really hard because if you’ve ever played the game, you’d know that being in and out of the lineup is a really difficult thing. But unfortunately we’re trying to mix and match with who we think can give us some quality at-bats against that particular pitcher.”

Arizona entered Sunday’s game third in the Pac-12 in batting average, and fifth in runs scored (though it has played fewer games than most of the other teams in the conference).

Here are Arizona’s season stats:

Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire