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What to watch for when Arizona softball plays at GCU for the first time

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Photo by Ryan Kelapire

The eighth-ranked Arizona softball team will spend its Pac-12 bye week in Phoenix with a three-game series against the Grand Canyon Antelopes.

The Wildcats (32-7, 12-0) will play a doubleheader on Friday starting at 5 p.m., before wrapping up the weekend Saturday at 1 p.m. MST.

Here are some things to watch for in the series.

First-ever trip to GCU

Unlike some other in-state schools that are afraid unwilling to play GCU, the Wildcats have done it every year since 2016.

This year, however, they are taking the rivalry(?) to a new level by playing at GCU for the first time ever.

“I’ve seen the stadium and pictures and other teams playing in their stadium, it looks amazing,” said UA ace Taylor McQuillin. “So I’m actually kind of excited to get up there, see what it’s like, and get to play. I think it’s really cool because it’s one more place I can say that I (went).”

GCU Softball Stadium opened in Feb. 2018 and seats roughly 1,200 people. Here is the promo video the school released last year.

Upset alert

The Lopes (26-14, 8-1) are in first place in the WAC and are especially dangerous at home where they are 22-6 this season.

Led by a balanced, four-headed pitching staff and the Smith twins (Shea and Sierra), the Lopes were the first team to beat No. 1 Florida State this season, when they split a two-game series in Phoenix in early March.

GCU also played No. 4 Oklahoma extremely tough in Norman, falling 1-0, and has beaten Utah, Michigan State, Ohio State and Iowa State.

The Wildcats are 8-0 all-time against the Lopes — including seven shutouts — but they know not to take GCU lightly.

“Grand Canyon is a good team and I don’t think you need to look any further than some of the teams that they’ve played and the results that they’ve gotten,” said UA coach Mike Candrea. “So I think it’s a good opportunity for us to be able to play some meaningful games during our off weekend. And I think Grand Canyon will be a very formidable foe and being on the road, I think will be a good challenge. And I think the biggest thing right now is we just need to continue to do what we’re doing and stay where we’re at mentally.”

Which is a good place, considering the Wildcats have won 14 straight, outscoring opponents 136-13 in that stretch.

“I think it’s pretty exciting,” McQuillin said of the streak. “It’s nice knowing that we can go out there and our offense is going to be explosive every time I go out. But even when they’re not, we’ve had some 2-0, 4-0 games, and those are the games that keep us in check a little bit.”

Pitching pecking order

This is an odd series in that Arizona is playing three games in two days. For that reason, it is entirely possible the Wildcats will use three different starting pitchers as opposed to the customary two.

Good luck trying to decipher who will get the ball, though. The Wildcats have not been making those decisions until an hour before first pitch.

T’s Back?

Senior designated player T Statman took a pitch to the eye last Friday at Utah, which caused it to swell shut, but thankfully she avoided a major injury.

It’s unclear if Statman will play this weekend, but she participated in batting practice Thursday, which seems like a good sign for her status.

Statman has been a consistent presence in the No. 6 spot this season, batting .340/.421/.620.

Check out Kim Doss’ feature on the Scottsdale native here.

Magnificent Malia

At this time last year, UA third baseman Malia Martinez was in the midst of a second-half swoon. This year, she is experiencing a second-half surge.

Martinez hit .636 with 18 RBI in five games last week, becoming the fourth Wildcat to have 10 or more homers this season. In all, she is hitting .368 with 41 RBI.

For more on her breakout season, check out my feature here.

Digging the long ball

Thanks in part to Martinez, the Wildcats lead the nation in homers this season with 77, launching nearly two per game.

Junior shortstop Jessie Harper, who clubbed four homers last week, leads the country with 21, one more than Mississippi State’s Mia Davidson and Georgia’s Alyssa DiCarlo.

GCU has done a great job keeping its opponents in the ballpark, only surrendering 14 homers all season.

Mulipola’s mini slump

There is not much to complain about when your team is on a 14-game winning streak, but junior catcher Dejah Mulipola has gone cold recently, going hitless in four of the last five games, dropping her batting average to .337.

However, the one game she did record a hit, she homered twice.

#BaseballDayAZ

Saturday’s game is part of a 24-hour baseball/softball marathon on FOX Sports Arizona. Baseball Day is what they are calling it.

FS Arizona produced this feature on Candrea as part of its coverage.

Soccer after softball

If you are in the Phoenix area and can’t get enough of UA sports, you can head over to GCU Stadium after Saturday’s softball game where Arizona soccer will be taking on the Lopes at 2 p.m. MST.

Not only is GCU Stadium gorgeous and well worth a visit, it is also the last time you will be able to watch Arizona soccer until the regular season in August. Saturday’s match is their spring season finale.

So far, the Wildcats are 2-1 with wins over ASU and New Mexico. They have scored 10 goals in three games.