It almost seemed like fate. The two coaches with the most wins in Division I softball history met in the second game of the season. It was a close battle as Mike Candrea’s Arizona Wildcats defeated Carol Hutchins’ Michigan Wolverines by a score of 2-1 back in February.
Six days ago, Hutchins coached in win No. 1,600 as her Wolverines beat the Ohio State Buckeyes. On Friday night, Candrea joined her at the milestone.
Like his Midwestern counterpart, Candrea couldn’t have done it without the countless talented young women who have been Wildcats. After Friday’s run-rule victory over Stanford, he spoke about how the mark reflects not so much on him, but on the all those who have worn the uniform.
“It means I’m older,” Candrea said when asked what 1,600 wins meant to him. “I always go back to the coaches who have coached here and the players who have played here. To be able to sustain a level for this long, it takes a lot of different people. So, it’s really a tribute to all who have been in this program.”
Candrea wants the remodeled Hillenbrand Stadium to be a monument to those players and what they’ve accomplished, as well as a place for those in the future who will get the next 1,600 wins for Arizona softball.
“The big thing is that it’s just a tremendous place for us to tell the history of Arizona softball,” he said. “It’s going to be, I think, one of the premier places for young kids to come into, because a lot of them have heard about all of these players and all of these things. But I think that when they walk in here, they kind of get a different feeling. I’ve watched teams walk through those gates and pull out their phones and start taking pictures, which is a nice sign for us.
“My big thing is someday I want to make sure that I have every kid who has put on an Arizona uniform’s name somewhere in this facility.”
The players whose names Candrea hopes someday grace the stadium were honored to be a part of that sustained success.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” catcher Dejah Mulipola said. “I was part of the team that got him 1,500, so just to see this is another great accomplishment.”
Some of his former players returned to Hillenbrand Stadium to see it happen. One of those was the pitcher throwing the ball to Mulipola in win number 1,500. On that day in March, 2017, it was a three-hitter against Washington that secured the milestone.
“I was there (Friday) for the win,” former Wildcat pitcher Danielle O’Toole said. “So happy I was there!”
As for the pitcher who started in the circle for number 1,600, Alyssa Denham was most impressed by the longevity of the program’s success under Candrea.
“I don’t even know,” Denham joked when asked what 1,600 victories means. “He’s been coaching longer than I was even thought of being born. That’s literally incredible. It’s 1,600 and counting.”
Arizona hopes to make it 1,601 by sweeping the series against Stanford on Saturday at noon. That would make them 15-0 in Pac-12 play with three weeks to go in the regular season. That’s the number the current Wildcats and their coaches are focused on.