The Arizona Wildcats (17-5) host No. 1 Florida State (23-1), the defending national champions, this weekend, setting the stage for one of the best series of the season.
This will be UA’s final test before conference play starts next weekend against Oregon. With that in mind, we discussed the FSU series, the Pac-12 and some other things in a roundtable.
What are the keys for UA against FSU?
Zant Reyez: For me, it’s about pitching. Taylor McQuillin has shown she can find that extra gear when she faces elite teams. She held her own against Oklahoma last month, and she will have to be as close to flawless in game one for the ‘Cats to have a shot.
It’ll be interesting to see who coach Mike Candrea puts in the circle in games two and three. Does he trust any other pitcher besides McQuillin to face a team like FSU? Alyssa Denham has had struggles as of late and will Candrea allow Gina Snyder to show her grit against the Seminoles?
Pitching aside, Arizona has to get hits that aren’t just home runs. We know this team can knock the ball out of the park, but this series will come down to timely and consistent hitting.
Arizona, for whatever reason, has a problem committing an abundance errors at home. UA cannot have three or more errors in its games if they want wins.
Ryan Kelapire: It’s pretty simple. McQuillin has to be at the top of her game, the defense has to be flawless and the Wildcats need to do a good job hitting (or laying off) the rise ball because Florida State ace Meghan King has a good one. And when Arizona gets runners in scoring position it has to bring them. The Wildcats can’t have situations like they did against Alabama game where they have runners on second and third with nobody out and come up empty-handed.
How many games will Arizona win against Florida State?
Ryan Kelapire: One. And I think that would actually be a decent outcome. The Wildcats just need to prove they are capable of beating these elite teams. Right now, they are 0-3 against top-10 squads.
Zant Reyez: I agree with Ryan. One win against FSU would be a solid outcome. This team was close to beating Oklahoma and Florida this year, and I think they can put it all together for one game to get a win. Getting swept by FSU isn’t what UA needs heading into Pac-12 play.
What are your takeaways from the team so far?
Zant Reyez: Jessie Harper is having a Pac-12 Player of the Year type of start. She has 13 home runs and 27 RBIs before the start of conference play. She has really impressed and looks to continue it for the rest of the season.
For as many home runs this team has, 39, it’s head scratching how hard base hitting is for the ‘Cats. UA has left 139 runners on base, and it has cost them some games already. The ‘Cats have to get consistency with their hitting so the LOB total doesn’t continue to grow.
Ryan Kelapire: So far this team is what I thought it’d be — a very good team that is not quite among the elite. The FSU series will give us a better idea if the Wildcats can get to that next level.
How do you foresee the pitching rotation looking like once conference play begins?
Zant Reyez: This is a question I didn’t think we’d have at the start of the season, but Gina Snyder has made a case to be in the rotation. Denham’s struggles have opened the door for Snyder to get a legitimate shot as second in the rotation.
Marissa Schuld not getting innings is interesting. I thought the superstar freshman would be a fixture by now, but there are more questions about her role than answers. I think she has the tools to be the ace next season, but that is in question too as she is seeing inconsistent usage.
Ryan Kelapire: I think it’s going to look very similar to last year. McQuillin will start games one and three of a series and Denham will pitch game two. I think the difference this year is the Wildcats will be more willing to go to their other arms when McQuillin and Denham get in trouble. That was rare last year when they combined for 90 percent of Arizona’s innings.
I’d like to think Arizona will experiment a little bit more with their staff since they have six intriguing pitchers, but this weekend isn’t the right time for that and it’s hard to do it in Pac-12 play too.
Where will Arizona finish in the Pac-12?
Zant Reyez: I say they’ll finish third or fourth if they stay at this level of play. If the hitting gets better and the home errors stop, they can give UCLA or Washington a run for the conference title.
Ryan Kelapire: I’d be surprised if Arizona finishes anywhere but third. Washington and UCLA are a step above because of their pitching, but I think the Wildcats are more talented than the rest of the conference. Oregon and ASU losing key players to transfer really changed the landscape of the conference.
Will this be the year the program finally gets back to the Women’s College World Series?
Zant Reyez: I want to say yes just because I want to see them back where they belong. Right now, though, I still see them getting to the Super Regionals and breaking my heart. But as I’ve stated, that can change if the hitting gets consistent and McQuillin and the rest of the pitching staff find another gear.
Ryan Kelapire: I think it will all come to down to whether or not they host Supers. So right now I’d have to say no since Arizona does not look like a top-8 team.