Malia Martinez drove in three runs and Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza knocked in two as Arizona softball peppered 12 hits in a 5-2 win over 11th-seeded Ole Miss in the first game of the Tucson Super Regional on Friday afternoon at Hillenbrand Stadium.
The sixth-seeded Wildcats (46-12) are now just one win away from ending their eight-year Women’s College World Series drought. Game 2 is Saturday at 5 p.m. PT, with a third game (if necessary) set for Sunday.
“We know where we want to go but you have to you have to take care of business, so I’m not going to get ahead of myself,” said UA coach Mike Candrea. “I’m a guy that stays where my feet are. So right now I’m going to enjoy this a little bit and get prepared for tomorrow.”
After the teams traded runs early, Arizona grabbed a 3-2 lead in the fourth when Palomino-Cardoza lofted a sacrifice fly to right. Martinez then laced an RBI single up the middle to make it 4-2.
The UA third baseman went 4 for 4 with a pair of doubles. She also roped an RBI double down the left-field line in the first inning to tie the game after Ole Miss grabbed an early lead on an error.
Palomino-Cardoza knotted the game at 2-all in the second with a liner to left. Her RBIs were set up by a productive bottom of the order. The 7-8-9 trio of Hanah Bowen, Peanut Martinez and Carli Campbell combined for five hits and three runs.
Peanut dropped an RBI single into right-center to make it 5-2 in the fifth. Ole Miss ace Molly Jacobsen was originally listed as the starter, but the Rebels made a late change for strategic reasons and went with Tucson-born Brittany Finney instead.
The Wildcats were not fooled.
“We have a whole roster full of talent and anyone at any moment can make things happen,” Malia Martinez said. “It doesn’t always have to be a big bomb. Today, a lot of it was played on the ground, which is huge for us.”
Arizona ace Taylor McQuillin (23-7) struggled early, surrendering a run in each of the first two frames, but was spotless from there.
The senior left-hander allowed five hits while walking four and striking out nine in a complete-game effort. She walked the leadoff batter in the fifth, before retiring nine straight to finish the Rebels off.
McQuillin unleashed an emphatic fist pump after getting Jessica Puk to fish at an off-speed pitch for the game’s final out.
“They got the leadoff batter on and then they started running around and doing Ole Miss-type things,” McQuillin said. “So for me it was ‘I need to keep them off bases so we can keep this rolling.’ And I think that as the game did go on, it’s always nice to go out when you have a two-run lead and then you get another extra cushioning with another run.”
McQuillin was not sharp out of the gate, but she did an admirable job dancing out of danger, stranding the bases loaded in the first and third innings.
“I think tonight you saw some maturity out of Taylor,” Candrea said. “Instead of worrying toward the last part of the game, she was attacking and she was getting stronger. And that’s what that’s what you need at this time of the year.”
Ole Miss outfielder Kylan Becker, who had two hits, scored the game’s first run when UA shortstop Jessie Harper bobbled a slow bouncing grounder off the bat of Kaylee Horton with two outs in the first.
Becker scored again in the second when Abbey Latham matched Malia Martinez’s line-hugging double with one of her own.
But both times Ole Miss scored, Arizona answered right back.
“We always talk about pressure is a privilege,” Palomino-Cardoza said. “Getting to be in that situation, getting to think I can be the one to help this team is a lot of fun.”
Unlike most teams, the Rebels were willing to test UA catcher Dejah Mulipola. Ole Miss swiped four bases, Becker accounting for two.
But Mulipola threw out Horton at second in the third, and the Rebels did not put a runner in scoring position the rest of the night.
“I mean, that’s their style,” Candrea said. “We knew that they’re going to run a lot and their leadoff hitter (Becker) is really good. She’s got 30-plus stolen bases, so we knew any chance that they had that they’re going to test us. I thought their short game early in the game was pretty efficient, and that’s really what the short game does—it puts a little pressure on the defense, kind of a game we used to play. We were definitely prepared for it, but I think as we got into the game, it got a little quicker than I would hope. But we settled down.”
Two years ago, the Wildcats were in the same position as they are now, needing one win to punch their ticket to Oklahoma City. They wound up dropping two games to Baylor to lose the Super Regional.
Candrea was asked Friday what kind of advice he will impart on his team to help them avoid a similar outcome.
“Well, there’s not much,” he said. “Our body of work has been done. The one thing I’ve really stressed with this group is learning how to handle the big moment and being able to control them. And I don’t live in the past, never will. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t be coaching. I think that’s for you guys to write about and remind me of it. But truthfully, I forgot about it a long time ago and right now it’s today and what we’re doing today.”
Postgame press conference
Mike Candrea, Malia Martinez, Taylor McQullin and Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza discuss Arizona Softball’s win over Ole MissPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, May 24, 2019