It may be the first time the Arizona Wildcats have made it to the Women’s College World Series since 2010, but when the games start it may feel like the most familiar place in the country other than Hillenbrand Stadium.
That’s because Arizona heads to Oklahoma City having faced each of the seven other WCWS qualifiers at least once. That includes fellow Pac-12 foes UCLA and Washington, who happen to be on the Wildcats’ side of the bracket.
“It’s kind of cool that we can say that we’ve played everyone that’s at this stage,” shortstop Jessie Harper said. “But we don’t want to play the name game. We know who everyone is at this point, so there aren’t going to be any surprises.”
Arizona opens play Thursday at 9 a.m. PT against Washington, a team it was swept by in three games at home earlier this month. After that it will face either UCLA, against whom it won two of three in Los Angeles in the final regular-season series, or Minnesota, which they beat in Tucson on March 2.
All told, Arizona is 4-7 against the rest of the WCWS field, though that record needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Other than the Washington and UCLA matchups in May, everything else happened during the first four weeks of the season.
“Yeah, they know us, but also I feel like some of the teams that played us saw in February,” center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza said. “They saw us just starting out. We have the full advantage here.”
Arizona played Florida during a season-opening tournament in Tampa, losing 3-2, then a week later lost 6-1 at home to Alabama. The following weekend the Wildcats beat Oklahoma State 3-0 and lost 2-1 to Oklahoma on back-to-back days at the Mary Nutter Classic in Cathedral City, Calif.
Though the Wildcats are the only WCWS team with first-hand knowledge of the rest of the field, coach Mike Candrea figures it will happen more and more now that top teams are putting more emphasis on strength of schedule early in the season.
“They’re not sitting around playing paddy cakes for 35 games to pad their win-loss record,” he said.
Candrea said where it helps Arizona most is the reduction in time needing to be spent preparing for an opponent, especially since the majority of its WCWS games prior to the championship series would likely come against UCLA and Washington. The Wildcats wouldn’t face someone from the other half of the bracket—Alabama, Florida, Oklahoma or Oklahoma State—until just two teams remained in the tournament.
“So now it’s just a matter of being able to make the adjustments that we need to,” Candrea said.
Arizona scored 33 runs and had 53 hits in its five postseason games leading up to the WCWS, but those numbers figure to drop significantly with the tougher competition. In the 11 games against the other OKC qualifiers, Arizona averaged 2.5 runs and 5.4 hits per game.
Senior ace Taylor McQuillin faced all seven potential WCWS foes and went 3-5 with a 2.75 ERA in 51 innings, striking out 32 and walking 15. In her other 24 appearances this spring she went 20-2 with a 1.02 ERA, striking out 182 with 34 walks in 137.1 innings.
“It’s always nice to know the competition that you’re playing,” McQuillin said. “I think it helps a little bit, but at the same time it’s a whole new game, a whole new season.
“I think the best part about a postseason is there is a clean slate. Just knowing that our team has been a little bit different in the postseason—we played a lot of these teams earlier in the season, so we’re a lot different team now. We’re really united on and off the field.”