Milestones were aplenty at Hillenbrand Stadium on Friday when the Arizona Wildcats run-ruled Stanford 9-1 in five innings.
UA extended its winning streak to 19 games and improved to 14-0 in conference play for just the second time in program history.
Beyond that, longtime head coach Mike Candrea picked up his 1,600th career victory, joining Michigan’s Carol Hutchins as the only coach in NCAA history to reach that mark.
UA players were well aware of that heading into the game.
“I think we all agree that we come out here everyday and fight for him,” said right-hander Alyssa Denham, the winning pitcher. “He puts his 110 (percent) effort, attitude, everything every single day at practice and I think it’s really special to put this jersey on because it not only represents Arizona, it represents him and I think that’s a really big deal to all of us.”
Candrea, who’s coached at the UA for 34 years, deemed his feat to be a product of getting older.
“To be able to sustain a level for this long, it takes a lot of different people,” he then said on a more serious note. “And so it’s really a tribute to all that have ever been in this program.”
Alumni like Danielle O’Toole, Eva Watson and Alexis Dotson were in attendance Friday, sitting behind home plate near the Wildcats’ dugout. That is what makes the program special, Candrea said. “Kids wanting to come back.”
“I’ve always enjoyed doing what I’m doing,” he said. “I’ve always had a passion for the sport. I mean, I came down here on a whim. It wasn’t about the money. It was just an opportunity to coach softball at a higher level each year ... and we’ve been able to recruit some good players, but it’s what I love to do, so it’s been fun.”
This year’s team especially. The Wildcats have now outscored their opponents 130-12 in conference play.
Dejah Mulipola led the charge Friday, going 3 for 3 with two homers and five RBI. The junior catcher crushed a solo homer in the second, a three-run homer in the third, then an RBI single in the fifth, accounting for Arizona’s first five runs.
“She made a little adjustment last night and was standing a little taller, and instead of getting underneath that pitch, she’s squaring it up,” Candrea said. “So yeah, she was fabulous.”
After Mulipola’s RBI single made it 5-0 in the fifth, Malia Martinez walked to bring home a run, before Hillary Edior ripped a two-run double down the left line and Rylee Pierce roped an RBI single to left to complete the run-ruling.
It’s the ninth time UA has mercy-ruled a Pac-12 opponent this season.
“This team’s been playing well for quite some time,” Candrea said. “So I like what we’re doing. We’re pitching well, we’re playing good defense, and we’re hitting the ball. You want to make sure that you’re hitting on all cylinders, but I also know that we have to be able to do that when it counts and that’s down the road.”
Denham allowed a lot of loud contact, but managed to get through the first four innings unscathed.
The UA defense was steady behind her, highlighted in the second inning when UA center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza gunned down Stanford’s Montana Dixon as she tried to stretch a leadoff single into a double.
“She lives for stuff like that,” Mulipola said. “In (batting practice) she always tries to throw runners out, so it was a practice-to-game type of thing.”
Later that inning, UA shortstop Jessie Harper ranged far to her right to track down a flare for the third out.
“Defense wins ballgames and I think it was a great all-around defensive night,” Denham said. “Alyssa made a couple good plays, Jessie made a good play, Reyna (Carranco) made a good play. Everyone had some good plays.”
The Cardinal got on the board in the fifth when Whitney Burks lined a homer to left. Hannah Howell then stroked a single to left, causing Candrea to summon Hanah Bowen from the bullpen.
The sophomore tossed a sacrifice bunt to first for the first out, induced a flyout for the second out, then fielded a comebacker for the third out.
It was the third save for Bowen, who lowered her ERA to 0.53. She threw her first-ever complete game last Saturday at Grand Canyon.
“Like I told Denham, I just felt like they were starting to square the ball up a little bit and we’ve got some pitching, and so the only way I’m going to know what these kids do is by putting them in those situations,” Candrea said. “And Hanah has earned that right. She threw well against Grand Canyon, and came in and did a good job against Oregon State. So she’s ready and you have to be a pretty special pitcher to be able to throw seven innings. You need to give them a different look and I’m just glad we had that opportunity.”
After the game, UA players congratulated Candrea by giving him a “sweaty, nasty group hug,” as Mulipola described it.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” she said. “I was part of the team that got him 1,500, so just to see this is another great accomplishment.”
Candrea, a youthful 63, still has plenty of time to grow his win total, starting Saturday when Arizona will go for the sweep.
“He’s been coaching longer than I was even thought of being born,” Denham joked. “That’s incredible. 1,600 and counting.”
Here’s Mike Candrea on picking up his 1,600th career win Friday vs. StanfordPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, April 19, 2019