The Arizona Wildcats entered the Florida State series with a chance to prove they can beat any team in the country, including the defending national champions.
And while Friday’s series-opener showed the Wildcats can compete with the Seminoles, it also showed they are still not in the same class as the nation’s No. 1 team.
The 12th-ranked Wildcats lost to Florida State 5-3 at Hillenbrand Stadium, falling to 17-6 overall and 0-4 vs. top-10 teams this season.
“I think we’re right there,” said UA catcher Dejah Mulipola. “It was just a couple at-bats and a couple pitches.”
Nearly 100 Arizona softball alumni attended Friday’s game, and Hillenbrand Stadium was rocking when NCAA all-time RBI leader Jenny Dalton-Hill fired the ceremonial first pitch, but the Seminoles wasted no time spoiling the fun.
After UA starter Taylor McQuillin walked two batters, RBI hits by Elizabeth Mason and Dani Morgan gave FSU a 2-0 lead before the Wildcats took their first swings.
The Seminoles (24-1) then loaded the bases in the third looking to break things open, but McQuillin got Anna Shelnutt to chase a rise ball to escape the jam.
That strikeout gave the crowd, and the Wildcats, new life.
Peanut Martinez legged out an infield single in the bottom half of the frame to give Arizona its first baserunner, then Jenna Kean walked before Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza lined a two-run double to right to knot the game at 2-all.
But FSU immediately punched back. Cali Harrod blasted a two-run homer in the fourth to restore the Seminoles’ two-run lead and put the Wildcats back in their place as a second-tier team.
“That was a big thing to come back and tie it up, and then we came back out and gave it right back,” said UA coach Mike Candrea. “Big games like this, you have to cash in on opportunities, but you got to be able to shut people down to and tonight we just didn’t get the key outs when we needed them.”
FSU added another run in the sixth when McQuillin (7-5, 1.73 ERA) plunked Mason with the bases loaded. The UA lefty struggled to find the zone all night, walking seven batters, tying a career-high. Hanah Bowen relieved her to begin the seventh.
Mulipola homered in the sixth to cut the deficit to 5-3 and Palomino-Cardoza stepped to the plate as the tying run in the seventh, but flew out to left to end the game. FSU ace Meghan King (11-1, 1.38 ERA) allowed five hits, while walking two and striking out three.
“There are some times that I thought we played really well,” Candrea said. “I think it’s a team that we definitely can play with. Taylor didn’t help us tonight with several walks and the hit batter, and the biggest thing is just the presence you have to have in big games that feeds enthusiasm throughout everyone, and it’s something we got to work on.”
Evidently so, because Palomino-Cardoza acknowledged the Wildcats were intimidated by Florida State.
“We went in with the mindset that oh, it’s Florida State, it’s Meghan King, the No. 1 team, defending champs,” she said. “We went in thinking like that and not that we need to play Arizona softball. And I think that’s what kept us on our toes a little bit. We just have to relax and play how we know how to play.”
Candrea was frustrated when he was relayed Palomino-Cardoza’s comment.
“I mean, if that’s the case, then they’ve got issues,” he said. “This is Division I softball and if you’re going to compete for a national championship, that shouldn’t happen. I mean, you’re at Arizona, you’re at home, we’ve got all of your alumni here. Come on.
“I don’t care who’s got what name on what jersey. There’s an opponent there and you gotta learn to play the opponent. A lot of times our opponent is ourselves, and so that’s the stumbling block that we have to get over. I don’t know where they get that from. If that’s the case, you wouldn’t see any of those (retired numbers) on the wall. That will be a good thing for me to address.”
Mike Candrea predictably was not happy after Arizona Softball’s 5-3 loss to No. 1 Florida StatePosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, March 8, 2019
Here’s Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza after @ArizonaSoftball’s 5-3 loss to No. 1 Florida State. She had two RBI. pic.twitter.com/jiRZ5JNRWW— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) March 9, 2019
Here’s catcher Dejah Mulipola after @ArizonaSoftball’s loss to No. 1 Florida State. She hit her 8th homer. pic.twitter.com/aZatNW5PAK— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) March 9, 2019