Jenna Kean drove in two runs, Taylor McQuillin tossed her ninth shutout of the season, and No. 11 Arizona beat No. 22 Cal, 3-0, on Thursday to begin a three-game series.
The victory snaps UA’s three-game losing streak, as it improves to 25-6 overall and 4-3 in the Pac-12.
Cal, which has now lost five straight, falls to 24-9 and 1-6, respectively.
“At this stage of the game, any conference victory is big,” Arizona coach Mike Candrea said. “Especially the way the conference is this year.”
McQuillin picked up her NCAA-leading 17th win, allowing just one hit while fanning eight. She threw 94 pitches; 59 were strikes. The junior’s ERA now sits at 0.90 on the season.
“She had total command, had a strikeout pitch going, hit her spots, when she got down 2-0 she came back,” Candrea said. “It was almost a perfect game for her.”
Arizona tallied six hits and four walks off Cal right-hander Zoe Conley.
Candrea was pleased with the Wildcats’ plate approach. They had taken too many good pitches when they were swept by Washington last weekend, he said.
“When we go up there and start swinging for the fence against good pitching, we’re in deep trouble,” he said. “So as long we’re putting the ball in play, eliminating the strikeouts, and swinging at good pitches, I gotta be happy.”
Kean, making her second straight start as Reyna Carranco remains out with a concussion, laced an RBI single up the middle in the second to kick off the scoring.
Then the freshman sliced a sacrifice fly to left in the fourth to put Arizona up 2-0. Two runs might have scored on the play if not for a sliding grab by Cal left fielder Bradie Fillmore.
In all, Kean was 1-for-2 in the No. 9 spot. Her pair of RBIs were the first of her career.
“At first it was kind of surreal. I’ve never felt anything like that before,” she said. “I’ve been having a hard time hitting, so I changed it up and decided to swing because usually I slap. I just felt like I saw the ball a lot better, and see the ball, hit the ball.”
Kean had just three hits in her last 13 at-bats entering the game, and Candrea admitted he was “very surprised” by her timely hitting.
The speedy left fielder has mostly been starting for defensive purposes, he said.
“It was good to see,” Candrea said. “Sometimes that’s all you need as a hitter is to run into a couple and you start to get a little more confidence. But it’s a tough game.”
Arizona’s No. 8-hitter Carli Campbell went 1-for-2 with run and a walk, while No. 7-hitter T Statman drew a walk and Jaycee Lindley scored as her pinch-runner.
“It’s funny about this game sometimes, because a lot of times you can look at the bottom of the order and when 7-8-9 hitters are on-base, good things happen,” Candrea said.
“And for a while, we have been absolutely vacant down there. It’s been maybe one runner on base throughout game, so hopefully they’ll stay hot and continue to find a way.”
Cal had its best scoring chance in the top half of the fourth. McQuillin had a no-hitter through 3 2/3 before a bloop single by Kobie Pettis broke it up.
That put two Bears on base — a runner reached on an error by Ashleigh Hughes earlier in the inning — but McQuillin induced a lazy flyout to right to end the frame.
Hughes, shifting from center field to second in Carranco’s absence, went 3-for-3 in the No. 2 spot, and became the first Wildcat since 2012 to steal three bases in a game.
Hughes scored in the fifth on an RBI groundout by third baseman Malia Martinez.
“It’s part of the game. It’s exciting,” Hughes said of her base-running. “I was just happy to get in scoring position for some of our hitters. It’s key.”
Arizona had trouble closing out games last weekend at Washington, blowing late leads in games one and two of the series, but that was no issue Thursday.
McQuillin retired the last 10 batters she faced, propelling the Wildcats back into the win column.
“That was big for us,” Candrea said.
So much so that as the Wildcats walked back to the dugout after their jubilant post-game huddle, Candrea made sure to get McQuillin’s attention.
“Taylor!” he yelled.
The left-hander promptly stopped in her tracks, turned around, and walked back to her head coach who was still standing in the outfield grass.
“Good game,” he said after they exchanged high fives and hugs. “We needed that.”
McQuillin was beaming.
“I think we kind of did (need that) to pick our team up, show our team like, ‘hey, this is what the conference is like,” she said. “We’re going to celebrate because every conference victory is a good one.”
Candrea said Carranco had surgery Thursday, but isn’t sure when she will return to the lineup.
The sophomore second baseman took a 70 MPH pitch to the face last weekend against Washington, which resulted in a concussion and facial fracture.
Here’s the video of Candrea’s comments:
Here’s what Mike Candrea had to say about Arizona 2B Reyna Carranco, who is out with a concussion and facial fracture. pic.twitter.com/v98VPS5oi0— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) March 30, 2018
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire