The hard part is over.
After an eight-season drought, the No. 6-seeded Arizona Wildcats have made it back to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2010.
Now, they are hoping to make some noise in Oklahoma City.
The eight-time national champions will be facing the No. 3-seeded Washington Huskies, the reigning national runner-up, to open the WCWS on Thursday at 9 a.m. PT on ESPN.
The bad news is Washington (50-7) has swept the Wildcats (47-14) in each of the past two seasons, including earlier this month in Tucson. The good news is that all three of the games this season were decided by three runs or fewer, suggesting Arizona can close the gap.
Plus, anything can happen in Oklahoma City, especially since the Wildcats have been playing great softball since that sweep, winning six straight and seven of their last eight including a series win against fellow WCWS participant UCLA.
“We’re playing well as a team and I know what it takes in Oklahoma City,” said UA coach Mike Candrea. “It’s a grind, every pitch, every at-bat. You can’t get ahead of yourself and you can’t worry about what happened. And then you have to have the ball bounce the right way. But it’s going to be the same thing. We have to pitch well, we have to play good defense, and we have to have timely hitting and I thought this weekend (against Ole Miss) we had all of those.”
The winner of the UA-UW game will face either No. 2 UCLA or No. 7 Minnesota in the next round. The Women’s College World Series is a double elimination tournament, consisting of two brackets. The winners of each bracket then compete in a best-of-three championship series.
The Huskies, who shared the Pac-12 title with UCLA, have a dominant pitching staff that ranks No. 3 in the country in ERA. Hard-throwing right-hander Taran Alvelo (25-4, 1.55 ERA) has mystified the Wildcats her entire career, allowing just one run on nine hits in 12.1 innings this season.
Arizona has had better luck against crafty right-hander Gabbie Plain (23-2, 1.14 ERA), who the Wildcats tagged for five runs (four earned) in 8.2 innings in the regular season. Both pitchers were key in getting the Huskies to the WCWS championship series last season, where they fell to Florida State.
Sis Bates and Morganne Flores are the position players to know. Bates, a lightning-rod shortstop, is hitting .386 while being regarded as a terrific defender.
Flores, a strong-armed catcher, leads the Huskies with 22 homers, 17 more than the next Husky. The redshirt junior belted a game-winning three-run shot off UA ace Taylor McQuillin in May’s series-opener. The two were travel ball teammates back in the day.
Arizona has played all seven of the teams that will be joining it in the Women’s College World Series. The Wildcats went 4-7 in those games, with the results shown below.
- Florida – L, 3-2
- Oklahoma State — W, 3-0
- Oklahoma — L, 2-1
- Alabama — L, 6-1
- Minnesota — W, 2-0
- Washington — LLL
- UCLA — WLW