After a 30-minute speech following Saturday’s uninspiring loss, Mike Candrea expected his players to be sharp in Sunday’s series finale, to return to the diamond and put up a gallant effort.
Instead, the Arizona Wildcats suffered their worst loss of the series, falling 10-3 to No. 4 UCLA, who completed the road sweep with ease.
It’s the sixth loss in a row for the reeling Wildcats, who drop to 6-9 in the Pac-12. They have not won a game since March 31.
“I don’t have any answers right now other than we just got our butts handed to us,” Candrea said, before a long-winded rant.
“We’re not in a good place right now. The only thing I can say in a positive note is that we have games left to play, and hopefully we’ll find a way to get it turned around because it’s, to me, it’s called the grind and some years you don’t go through that. I thought last year we kind of had a fairy-tale season until it all crashed until the end.
“So sometimes when you have this happen to you in the middle of the season, you learn from it and make some adjustments from it. The biggest thing right now is we’re not seeing the adjustments that you need. We’ve got some soul-searching to do and some kids need to take a look at what they’re doing right now and why it’s not working and how (they are) going to fix it, instead of going out and continuing to do the same thing over and over again. Unfortunately that’s kind of where we’re at.
“And they’re very fragile kids. It’s a different generation. I’ve tried about everything. From being nice to them, to getting in their face. I thought we had a really good discussion last night and I expected us to play the game well and we started off that way. But the minute that something happens, we just have a hard time competing the way we need to.”
Candrea believes success stems from the circle where the Wildcats were overmatched all series.
UCLA teed off for 10 hits Sunday, and scored in every inning but the second and fifth. The Bruins took a 3-0 lead just four batters into the game, thanks to a screeching opposite field homer by Rachel Garcia.
Arizona did respond with a pair of homers to tie the game — a solo shot by Ashleigh Hughes in the first and a two-run homer by Ivy Davis in the second — but UCLA always had a counterpunch, and then some.
It scored three runs in the third to re-take the lead, then another run in the fourth, another in the sixth, and two in the seventh for good measure.,
Meanwhile, Garcia tossed 4.1 scoreless innings in relief to tame the Wildcats’ bats.
“She’s just really good,” said Davis, whose line-drive homer to left was the first of her career. “She’s really aggressive and competitive so she knows her batters and she knows what she’s facing, so she knows what she wants to throw. She figured that out pretty quickly and worked with it.”
Candrea knew the Bruins were going to turn to Garcia after she had thrown three dominant innings in relief in Saturday’s contest, but it didn’t matter. The Wildcats still couldn’t adjust.
Garcia allowed just two hits and struck out nine.
“We came back and made it a game and then they brought her in and there’s a bunch zeroes on the board,” Candrea said. “The only way you beat teams like that with a bunch of zeroes on the board on your side is you have to put zeroes on their side and have an opportunity to make something happen.”
Arizona had a prime opportunity to make something happen against Garcia in the third, but it proved fruitless.
Trailing 6-3, the Wildcats loaded the bases for the heart of their order with nobody out, but No. 4-hitter Jessie Harper struck out, then No. 5-hitter Malia Martinez bounced into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play.
Arizona wouldn’t score the rest of the day. UCLA kept pouring it on.
“That’s it,” Candrea said, deeming that failed third-inning rally as the game-changing moment. “Right now I’m just searching for answers. … We’re not doing anything well. We came out and fought a little bit and then we get back in the game, we give it right back and it’s just wearing on us right now. We’re trying to find a little glimpse of some confidence and some success.”
UA ace Taylor McQuillin struggled again, getting chased after recording just six outs. The left-hander surrendered six runs on five hits and two walks. She was relieved by Alyssa Denham who allowed four runs on five hits in 4.1 innings.
UCLA was putting some good swings on the right-hander in the seventh, which led Candrea to turn to Gina Snyder, who had pitched just once all season.
“We don’t have the stability (in the circle) that you need to compete at this level,” Candrea said.
Simply, Arizona needed to play its A-game to beat the fourth-ranked Bruins, but played its C-game instead, Candrea said.
The Wildcats were limited to six hits and were 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position.
Poor situational hitting and poor pitching continue to haunt them. They have surrendered at least seven runs in each of the last five games, and were outscored 27-11 in the three-game series.
Arizona’s last four series have been against ranked teams, including three in the top-five.
Wednesday, it will finally get a break from its arduous conference schedule, as it hosts New Mexico State in mid-week doubleheader.
But Candrea doesn’t expect a cakewalk. The Aggies have won eight of their last nine games. The Wildcats have seemingly forgotten how to win.
“We’ve just gotta get some things turned around.” Candrea said. “New Mexico State’s going to give us everything what we want [and more]. They’re a good team and truthfully right now we’re not playing well.
“We’ve got two days to kind of figure it out. I don’t know what we can do to ignite any fires. It’s gotta come from within.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire