The Arizona softball team will host the Ole Miss Rebels in Super Regionals next weekend. The winner of the best-of-three series will punch its ticket to the Women’s College World Series.
The dates and times still have to be sorted out, but here is an early preview of the series. (One fun fact: UA pitching coach Taryne Mowatt was Ole Miss’s pitching coach for three seasons before joining the Wildcats in 2018.)
How did they get here?
The sixth-seeded Wildcats (45-12, 19-5 Pac-12) punched their ticket to Supers with little stress, going 3-0 in the Tucson Regional and dominating Auburn in the final by a score of 12-3 in Sunday’s championship game.
It wasn’t so easy for the Rebels.
The 11-seed was matched up against Louisiana-Lafayette, the former school of Arizona junior pitcher Alyssa Denham, in the Oxford Regional final. The Ragin’ Cajuns (52-6) hadn’t lost a game since March 20 and strolled into the regional final by beating Southeast Missouri and Ole Miss in their first two games.
The Rebels didn’t give up, though. They won the first game of the regional final by a score of 5-1, handing ULL their first loss in almost two months. In the second game, it looked like the Cajuns were going to be the team to book their trip to Tucson.
ULL headed into the bottom of the seventh with a 4-3 lead. The Rebels (41-18, 13-10 SEC) notched two runs with their backs against the wall to take the regional.
How do these teams stack up historically?
Unlike Arizona, Ole Miss does not have a storied history.
The Rebels have made the NCAA Tournament four straight years, but those are their only postseason appearances in program history.
This will mark just the second time Ole Miss has advanced to Supers, the other being 2017 when they lost to the UCLA Bruins in Westwood.
Arizona has reached Super Regionals six straight years and 31 times in the last 33 years. However, the Wildcats have not advanced past Supers since 2010.
Arizona and Ole Miss have only faced each other once. The Wildcats beat the Rebels 3-2 on Feb. 6, 2004.
How do they match up in the circle?
Arizona won their regional by using everything in the toolbox: small ball, exploiting defensive errors, and—in the final game—big blasts from their power hitters.
They also were very effective in the circle. Taylor McQuillin started the first two games, surrendering seven hits and two runs over 14 innings. She came into the weekend with a 1.59 ERA and emerged with a 1.54. She tallied a strikeout per inning, which was off her usual pace of 1.13 per inning. Most importantly, she was able to start back-to-back games for the first time all season and emerge victorious.
In the third game, it was Alyssa Denham who took the circle. Denham hadn’t given up any earned runs in two of her last three starts, but she also hasn’t pitched a full game since she went 8.2 innings against California.
Against Auburn, Denham once again put up a clean slate as far as earned runs, dropping her ERA to 1.93 for the season. The three runs scored by the Tigers were all unearned. This time, though, she accomplished it in a full seven innings. Her 10 strikeouts were the most she’s had since an early game against the University of South Florida. She walked only one.
Arizona coach Mike Candrea enters the Super Regionals confident in his entire staff. As a group, they have an ERA of 1.61 and a WHIP of 0.92. Opponents hit only .182 against them, and they’ve thrown 15 shutouts this season.
“I feel pretty good right now that we have some arms,” he said. “And it’s not just Denham and McQuillin, but Gina Snyder’s come in and thrown some really good innings for us and she’s ready to go. So, yeah, I feel like we have a little bit of depth and I think at this stage of the game, at this time of the year, that’s nice to have.”
In the other dugout, the Rebels will come with two pitchers who have thrown well over 100 innings and another who has thrown 73. Only one of those three has an ERA under 2.00.
Molly Jacobsen has thrown the most innings, pitching 160.1 frames with a 1.92 ERA. She was the hard-luck loser in the first game against ULL, when she gave up only two runs but her team failed to score. On the season, she has gone 14-7 and struck out just over one batter per inning.
Brittany Finney has allowed 54 earned runs in 141.2 innings, good for a 2.67 ERA. However, she has amassed the most wins on the staff by going 18-9. She walks .22 batters per inning and strikes out .89.
As a staff, the Rebels have an ERA of 2.18, over half a point higher than the Wildcats’ staff. Their 1.13 WHIP is also considerably higher than the .92 posted by Arizona’s pitchers. They strike out .90 batters per inning, comparing unfavorably to the home team’s 1.04.
Who’s better in the batter’s box?
The Ole Miss offense has a batting average of .277 and an on-base percentage of .366. Only two hitters sport averages over .300—Kylan Becker (.426) and Abbey Latham (.333). Again, this trails the Wildcats with their .323 team average.
Arizona has seven regular players hitting over .300, led by Reyna Carranco at .432. The bigger problem for the Rebels is that the Wildcats have players who hit for both power and average. Jessie Harper’s 28 home runs don’t come at the expense of average; she’s hitting .353 to go along with her team-leading .861 slugging percentage.
It’s not just Harper who knocks the ball out of the park with regularity, either. Dejah Mulipola has 21 home runs, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza has 16, and Malia Martinez has 13. The Rebels have just one player with double-digit long balls—Latham has 10 on the season.
Which team is better defensively?
Two of the teams at the Tucson Regional noted the hardness of the field at Rita Hillenbrand Stadium. Most notably, these were teams from the Northeast and the Southeast. Ole Miss may find that they need to adjust to the different conditions, as well.
With errors playing a role in several of the regional match-ups, defense might be a deciding factor once again. This also could cause problems for the Rebels. While Arizona ranks ninth in the country in fielding percentage, Ole Miss sits at No. 144.
The numbers all point in Arizona’s favor. Of course, as the Wildcats learned last time they hosted a Super Regional—2017 when they were upset by Baylor—that doesn’t always mean anything. Execution and mental toughness will play big roles.
Candrea believes that the Wildcats are finally ready to display the kind of mental toughness that makes it easier to execute.
“Our mindset right now is so much better than it’s been in a long time,” he said. “And I think we’ve accomplished one thing and that is to get them to understand that everyone in big games are going to be nervous. And I think that they’ve finally realized that, and they’re not internalizing that themselves, they’re at least giving a little bit of credit to the other team having those same feelings.
“I like the progress I’ve seen with our pitchers in big moments, but more importantly I like our defense. I haven’t seen the game get quick on us for a while and next week will be a big challenge. It always is.”