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What we learned from Arizona softball’s series sweep of Stanford

The Arizona softball team hugs coach Mike Candrea after his 1,600th career victory on Apr. 19, 2019.
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

After most home series, I do a “3 Up, 3 Down” wrap-up. It’s hard to do that after the dominance Arizona softball showed against the Stanford Cardinal this weekend. More than three positives and less than three negatives make for a difficult analysis.

The only major criticism over the three-day series was that Stanford was getting some hard-hit balls against the Arizona pitching staff. They still lost the series by a cumulative score of 29-3. They were run-ruled twice, and barely escaped the run rule in the first game.

Those hard-hit balls led to the second area that still needs to be addressed. Arizona pitchers are still prone to giving up the round-tripper. As my article last week demonstrated, they are giving up more home runs than the other top teams in the conference. Coming into this week, they had surrendered 22 home runs over 42 games.

In the Stanford series, two of the three runs scored by the Cardinal came via the long ball, bringing the Arizona staff’s total to 24 home runs in 45 games. The positives were that both home runs were solo, and that neither was given up by Taylor McQuillin, who pitched 11 of the 17 innings in the series.

The positives far outweigh those nitpicks, though. Arizona showed that their Pac-12 dominance was not just a fluke of the schedule. They had not played a team in the top 30 of the RPI since facing off against Florida State back in the second week of March. In the interim, they had put up a 17-0 record, with 12 of those wins coming in Pac-12 play.

At No. 22, Stanford was a chance to show that they could maintain that excellence against good teams. They more than proved that.

The Cardinal came in averaging 7.70 hits per game and 5.57 runs. Against the Wildcats, they were held to 11 total hits and three runs in 17 innings.

Their best day at the plate came in the final game, when they faced McQuillin for the second time in three days for four innings and Gina Snyder for one. Their recent familiarity with McQuillin likely helped them see her pitches better.

Even more impressive was the Arizona offense. Cardinal pitchers had given up 18 home runs over 249.1 innings coming into the series. They had surrendered 220 hits on a .236 batting average against, and had a team ERA of 2.47.

Arizona hit seven balls out of Hillenbrand stadium in three games—an increase of more than one-third of Stanford pitchers’ total home runs to date. Those seven home runs brought the Wildcats’ total hits to 26 on a .406 batting average.

The Wildcats feasted on the inside pitch. After Thursday’s game, senior designated player Hillary Edior said that the ball she hit out of the park was a drop ball inside.

“It’s one of my favorites, for sure,” Edior said.

On a Friday night that she hit two home runs, catcher Dejah Mulipola mentioned the inside pitch, as well. And, once again, after the series sweep was completed, Arizona coach Mike Candrea talked about Stanford’s reliance on the inside pitch.

There are still obstacles in the future. Arizona travels to California next week, where they should make fairly short work of the Golden Bears (24-22, 3-14 Pac-12). After that, though, they will return home to face Washington before ending the regular season against UCLA at Easton Stadium. Those teams are No. 2 and No. 3 in the Pac-12 standings behind the Wildcats, and both have been ranked ahead of Arizona in the national polls all season.

The Huskies and the Bruins have tougher pitching staffs than the Cardinal. They both have BAA almost 100 points lower than the Stanford staff and ERA almost half the size.

Still, Arizona has shown once again that it can dominate a good team. That instills confidence that the Wildcats can compete with and even take a series from other great teams. They’ll head back to Hillenbrand in two weeks to prove it.