A decade ago, longtime Arizona coach Mike Candrea would have told you that there’s no such thing as home-field advantage in college softball.
But his belief has changed now that the sport has grown and fan support is better than ever.
“I think more and more there’s places that are developing that,” he said.
Washington’s Husky Softball Stadium, where Arizona will begin a three-game series Friday, is one of them.
But what makes it so?
“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,” Candrea explained.
Indeed. The Huskies enter this weekend’s series as the No. 1 team in the country. Washington is 29-2, though it is just 1-2 in the Pac-12 as it dropped two of three at No. 12 ASU last weekend.
“It kinda shows the strength of the Pac-12 more than anything,” Candrea said. “I think as you go on through this Pac-12 Conference season, you’re going to see situations like that are going to occur.”
Those two blemishes aside, trying to find a flaw in this Washington team is a thankless task.
It’s sixth in the nation in batting average (.351), fourth in the nation in ERA (0.93), and it leads the Pac-12 in fielding percentage (.983).
As Candrea said, it has all the elements of an elite team. Plus, the Huskies have won 10 of their last 11 regular-season home games.
“They play extremely confident at home,” Candrea said. “And they’re used to playing in cold weather.”
About that. Rain and 40-degree temperatures are forecasted in Seattle this weekend. That is quite the contrast from the warmth and sunshine the Wildcats are leaving behind in Tucson.
When asked how his team is going to prepare for such a change, Candrea said wittingly, “Well, you just do it. You don’t think about it. The more you think about it, the worse it gets. Like I told the girls (Tuesday), so what? It’s going to be cold. It’s going to be rainy. But there’s a game that’s got to be played so your mental toughness has to kick in and play the game just like you would if you’re at 90 degrees.”
Arizona will have a fighting chance to beat the nation’s No. 1 team if it can do that.
The Wildcats (24-3, 3-0) swept Utah last weekend to begin conference play, and they enter this weekend’s series as the No. 9 team in the country.
Arizona, which outscored the Utes 23-8, is eighth in the country in batting average (.347) while junior left-hander Taylor McQuillin has anchored its pitching staff.
McQuillin is the nation’s leader in wins (16) and shutouts (8), and has allowed just five earned runs in her last 95 innings.
In all, she’s 12th in the country with a 0.75 ERA and seventh in the nation with 136 strikeouts.
But McQuillin has yet to face a team with a lineup as deep as Washington’s, and perhaps no hitter is feared more than senior slugger Kirstyn Thomas, who is batting .429 with a Pac-12-most 11 home runs and 39 RBIs.
“I think anytime you travel in the Pac, it’s going to be rough because it’s a home-field advantage for the other team,” McQuillin said.
“But I think that going into a series like Washington, it’s going to be one of those top games every single day. You’re not going to get a game where it’s not tough competition. They’re going to want to go out and compete and they’re going to feel comfortable because they’re in their home environment.”
Arizona, which swept Washington in Tucson last season, is largely untested on the road. It has only played three true road games this year, winning two at Texas earlier in the month.
The Wildcats are sitting in first place in arguably the nation’s toughest conference, so they have plenty to feel good about. But winning a series in the rain and frigid temperatures in Seattle could truly cement them as a College World Series contender.
“You have to learn how to play on the road,” Candrea said. “So it should be a good challenge for us.”
- Friday, March 23 at 5 p.m. PT on the Pac-12 Networks
- Saturday, March 24 at 3:30 p.m. PT on the Pac-12 Networks
- Sunday, March 25 at 1 p.m. PT on the Pac-12 Networks
All games will be live streamed on Pac-12.com/live
- Arizona relying heavily on Taylor McQuillin in 2018
- Malia Martinez has been ‘fabulous’ as Arizona’s new third baseman
- Over the first 17 games of the season, from the leadoff spot UA was hitting .254 and getting on base at just a .299 clip. That’s when UA tried Alyssa Palomino, normally a middle-of-the-order hitter, in the leadoff spot for the first time in her career. She’s hitting .548 and getting on-base at a .622 clip in the 10 games since. She’s the only Power 5 player hitting at least .480 with eight-or-more home runs, and one of two in the NCAA (Jenna Cozza - UMass).
- The Wildcats have hit at least one home run in 10 of their last 11 games, including four this weekend vs. Utah, bringing their season total to 40, two shy of Georgia’s NCAA-high 42. Arizona’s 1.48 HR/game rank third nationally.
- On UA third baseman Malia Martinez: After starting the season 1-for-her-first-14, she is 29-for-60 (.483) since and has at least one hit in 13 of UA’s last 14 games, including a pair of 4-for-4 games, the only four-hit games this season by any Wildcat. Her hot streak has vaulted her to second on the team with a .405 batting average; she has five doubles, and three homers on the season. Alyssa Palomino: The redshirt sophomore, coming off her second ACL surgery in the offseason, started the season 3-for-14 (.214). Since that time, Palomino may have the best numbers in NCAA softball. She is 33-for-her-last-61 (.541) with six homers and six doubles. Palomino is the only player in the all of Power 5 hitting at least .480 with more eight or more homers. Palomino is on a career-long 11-game hitting streak.
- On UA second baseman Reyna Carranco: If you include the hitting streak she carried into 2018 from last season, Carranco has had three separate 10-plus game hitting streaks this season. She has a hit in 10 straight game, one off Palomino for the longest on the team and one off her career high, set twice. Carranco had at least one hit and one RBI in every game vs. Utah. The reigning Pac-12 leader in batting average in conference play is off to a hot start once again. For the season, she’s hitting .400 with eight doubles and two homers.
- On UA catcher Dejah Mulipola: The sophomore has homered in four of UA’s last six games and has 11 RBI over the Wildcats’ last seven games. She’s hitting .393 over her last 10 games and has drawn nine walks since March 4 (.526 OBP).
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire