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Reyna Carranco, Taylor McQuillin lead Arizona softball past Cal State Fullerton

Reyna Carranco
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Reyna Carranco drove in three runs and Taylor McQuillin tossed a three-hit shutout as the Arizona Wildcats beat Cal State Fullerton 6-0 on Sunday to cap the Hillenbrand Invitational.

It was a bounce-back performance for the Wildcats, who went 3-2 over the weekend, with two sloppy losses to South Florida and No. 7 Alabama.

“Every team has its downs before it has its ups,” Carranco said. “I think we’re just getting those out of the way and experiencing those so we don’t have to experience those again.”

The junior second baseman knocked in two runs in the second inning with an infield single to short, then doubled into the right center gap to plate Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza in the fourth. Jessie Harper promptly drove in Carranco with a double to left center.

It was a nice change of pace for Arizona’s offense, which had been struggling to get timely hits and score without the use of the long ball, though Palomino-Cardoza did blast a two-run homer to left in the fifth, her fifth of the season, the most in the Pac-12.

“We’re still kind of working out some kinks within our team,” Palomino-Cardoza said. “We’re definitely close-knit and now we’re figuring out how to put it together against someone else.”

For McQuillin, it was her was first shutout of the season. The lefty (2-3, 1.75) fanned four Titans and walked none, mostly inducing weak contact.

“I just went out there with a positive attitude and I think our whole team did,” she said. “... Having a positive attitude, getting outs early in counts, just throwing pitches to let the batters get themselves out and not trying to do too much.”

McQuillin had allowed 10 runs in her first two outings of the Hillenbrand Invitational, but only three were earned.

“It was important for Taylor to throw today just to get a good feeling because she’s been a little snake bit,” said UA coach Mike Candrea. “I mean, she had 16 strikeouts the other night (against USF) and we should win that game 100 percent.”

The Wildcats were spotless defensively against the Titans, a day after they committed four errors in Saturday’s loss to Alabama. Candrea started Ivy Davis at shortstop to give Harper a “mental break” after she committed three errors in the first three games of the Hillenbrand Invitational.

“We stumbled a little bit, we were very uncharacteristic defensively, the game got a little quick on us, and I wasn’t quite expecting that, but .... today’s performance I was very pleased that they came back and really played a clean game,” Candrea said.

“And offensively we got some key hits when we needed to. I mean, that’s the name of the game. Great pitching, timely hitting and solid defense is the combination you have to have, so moving forward I knew this was going to be very challenging schedule for us. I thought we would do a little bit better with it, so I’m not really overly pleased with that, but this team I know their potential, I know where they can go so it’s just a matter of just sticking with it.”

Right fielder Jenna Kean was a catalyst at the bottom of the lineup, tallying two singles, two runs, and a stolen base from the No. 9 spot. First baseman and No. 6 hitter Rylee Pierce doubled in the third inning, her first hit since transferring from Missouri.

“It was nice to see Rylee Pierce get a hit today, maybe take the monkey off her back a little bit,” Candrea said. “She’s just pressing. ... The bottom of our order did a good job and that’s the biggest challenge we had early on, so we’ll grow from it.”

That was the theme of Arizona’s postgame interviews: that it will learn from its early-season struggles. The ninth-ranked Wildcats have slogged to a 6-4 start with only one of those wins (vs. No. 19 Michigan) coming against a high-caliber team. Two of their four losses were to unranked USF and NC State.

“With each struggle we’ll get better,” Carranco assured. “We just need those experiences to try and move up and forward to where we’re trying to go.”

Players admitted they were jittery in their first games at the remodeled Hillenbrand Stadium. Candrea noted how outfielders are still getting used to the way the ball looks coming off the bat.

“Now that we’ve played in it, I think we will be a better team for sure,” said Palomino-Cardoza, who has started every game in center.

The Wildcats have another arduous weekend ahead of them, as they will head to Palm Springs to play in the Mary Nutter Classic where they will face Missouri, UC Santa Barbara, No. 20 Oklahoma State, Long Beach State and No. 3 Oklahoma.

The Sooners will be the third top-10 team Arizona has faced this season, the other two being No. 7 Alabama and No. 4 Florida. The Wildcats lost to both.

“Obstacles are going to happen, we’re just gonna have to overcome adversity and our schedule is not easy,” McQuillin said. “So we’re just going have to come out and play our best. .... And as you could see sometimes this weekend, we didn’t do that as well, so we’re just going to capitalize on mistakes that other teams make and improve on the mistakes that we made this weekend and come out stronger in Palm Springs.”

So inspiring

How’s this for a feel-good story? Sophomore right-hander Taylor Dockins started for the Titans, despite an ongoing battle with liver cancer.

Postgame interviews

Mike Candrea

Here’s Mike Candrea on the win vs. Cal State Fullerton and his takeaways from the Hillenbrand Invitational

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, February 17, 2019

Taylor McQuillin

Here’s Taylor McQuillin after throwing a shutout vs. Cal State Fullerton

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, February 17, 2019

Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza

Here’s Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza after Arizona Softball’s win vs. Cal State Fullerton in which she blasted her fifth homer

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, February 17, 2019

Reyna Carranco