It’s the postseason and Taylor McQuillin is locked in.
Sixteen hours after throwing a four-hit shutout against Saint Francis, the Arizona left-hander returned to the circle against North Dakota State and blanked the Bison in a 6-0 victory.
With the win, the 14th-seeded Wildcats advance to Sunday’s regional final, putting them a victory away from Super Regionals.
McQuillin was extremely efficient Saturday, only needing 93 pitches to go the distance. At one point, she recorded five outs on five pitches. She struck out nine, allowed just two hits, and walked one.
“Taylor set the tone on the mound for us and we finally got some key hits today and put runs on the board, which is nice,” said UA head coach Mike Candrea. “I thought the kids saw the ball well from the very beginning of the game and it was a matter of time, but the key was Taylor stifling them. I don’t think there was a hitter in there that really looked comfortable all day, so kudos to her. And this puts us in the driver’s seat.”
Arizona only had two hits in Friday’s win, but had three in the first inning alone Saturday, and eventually finished with 10 — nine singles and a Jenna Kean double.
Kean, the No. 9 hitter, was 4-for-4, providing a huge boost from the bottom of the lineup. She also scored twice and stole a base.
“My mentality going up there was just see ball, hit ball and keep it simple and play my game and don’t get too ahead of myself,” said Kean, who bunted, slapped, and swung for base-hits.
The freshman has been one of Arizona’s best hitters since becoming a mainstay in the lineup after Ashleigh Hughes’ hand injury.
Kean said that extra playing time has made her more confident and comfortable than ever.
“I give Jenna a lot of credit today because as a freshman it’s challenging at times when you’re in the lineup and then not in the lineup and then back in the lineup,” Candrea said.
“And yes, confidence is a big factor, but truthfully it’s a performance-based sport. And the great thing about it is the more opportunities she has, like today, the bigger her database is going to get, which is gonna make her nothing but better from here on out. And I think that’s the whole thing with this team. We’re very-sophomore dominated ... and every opportunity we have it’s just putting another notch in that database and that’s something that you draw from all the time and you’re going to get better at those big games and that’s what we need to do.”
One of those sophomores, Dejah Mulipola, plated the game’s first run with an RBI single in the first and another second-year player, Reyna Carranco, would make it a 2-0 game with a sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Carranco then knocked in Kean with an RBI single in the sixth, and it eventually ballooned into a three-run inning. After a single and an error, Alyssa Palomino walked with the bases loaded and Jessie Harper scored on a wild pitch to extend the lead to 5-0.
Carranco drove Kean in again in the seventh, lacing a hard grounder off the shortstop’s glove, though it was ruled an error so she wasn’t credited with an RBI.
NDSU’s Jacquelyn Sertic struggled with her command, walking four, but the Bison didn’t provide much help behind her.
They entered with the best fielding percentage in the regional, but committed three errors, which flooded the bases with Wildcats.
Arizona was 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position and left 12 on-base, allowing NDSU to stay in the game until the sixth.
Harper struck out to strand the bases loaded in the fourth, then Malia Martinez flew out to strand the bases loaded in the sixth. Arizona left a runner in scoring position in the first, third, and fifth innings, too.
But the Wildcats still provided more than enough support for McQuillin, who has been untouchable through two postseason games.
The junior has allowed just six hits in 14 innings with 16 strikeouts.
“I’m just trying to throw strikes and not get behind in the count,” she said. “I think I did that a lot yesterday. So my goal coming into today was attack early, make them swing at pitches that they can get themselves out on, and really just pound the zone.”
Candrea disappointed with the crowd
Assuming Arizona doesn’t host Super Regionals, this is the last weekend Hillenbrand Stadium hosts games before the historic venue gets remodeled this summer.
So Candrea was disappointed that only 1,515 fans showed up to Saturday’s game. The left-field bleachers were almost completely empty.
“I know it’s hot, but unfortunately they make a difference,” he said. “I mean that’s why we want to host, why we want to be here is because of our fans. And so I hope they come out tomorrow and support this group of young ladies because it does make a difference.”
But maybe there will be more games at Old Hillenbrand?
UCLA lost to Cal State Fullerton in its regional, so the Wildcats are one win and one Bruin loss from hosting Super Regionals.
UCLA has to win three straight to avoid elimination. It has to beat Sacramento State/Texas State, then Cal State Fullerton twice.
Hear what Mike Candrea, Taylor McQuillin and Jenna Kean had to say after Arizona Softball’s 6-0 win vs. North Dakota State Recap ➡️ https://www.azdesertswarm.com/softball/2018/5/19/17372612/arizona-softball-ncaa-tournament-north-dakota-state-final-score-recap-tucson-regional-bracketPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Saturday, May 19, 2018
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire