Good pitching, solid defense and timely hitting are the three keys to winning softball games.
Arizona coach Mike Candrea recites them all the time.
But the third one escaped his team Friday when it hit 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position in a 2-1 loss to No. 3 Washington.
“We knew coming in that Washington is a good team and it was going to be a pitching duel,” Candrea said. “The big thing tonight is we left nine runners on base. We couldn’t get a key hit when we needed to. Can’t complain about our effort.”
The Wildcats (40-7, 17-2 Pac-12) stranded two runners in the third, left the bases loaded in the fourth and failed to plate Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza in the fifth after she doubled down the right-field line to begin the frame.
After going hitless in its first 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position, Arizona mercifully got on the board in the seventh when Jessie Harper roped a two-out single up the middle to score Peanut Martinez.
It was too little, too late.
Hard-throwing Taran Alvelo relieved Gabbie Plain and promptly pumped three fastballs by UA catcher Dejah Mulipola for the final out, stranding the potential tying and winning runs.
“A lot of that is you have to tip your hat to the pitcher you’re facing,” Candrea said. “(Plain) had us out in front and we just couldn’t make an adjustment. We prepared for it quite well, but maybe we were a little faster in batting practice than she was tonight. I really thought we weren’t allowing the ball to travel and go to the opposite field. That’s why we hit a lot of balls off the end of the bat, a lot of weak ground balls. I was happy in the last inning that we had some opportunities, but it’s tough to win when you leave runners on base.”
The Huskies (40-7, 15-4) only mustered three hits to Arizona’s six, but Morganne Flores provided all the offense they needed in the third by blasting a two-run homer off Taylor McQuillin, her former travel ball teammate.
“If it’s 0-0 heading into the last inning, that could have been our game,” lamented McQuillin. “I take the responsibility for that.”
Flores’ long ball came after McQuillin retired the first two batters of the inning. That’s when Sis Bates singled and advanced to second on a passed ball, before Flores uppercutted a curveball off the batter’s eye.
Looking back, Candrea wishes McQuillin would have been a little more careful to the Huskies’ home-run leader.
“It was one mistake,” he said. “Taylor threw a good ballgame overall but we had a runner on second with an open base and a kid that can leave the ballpark really quickly. That was a little disappointing, but I’m not disappointed with the way we played.”
Not only did the Wildcats outhit Washington, Candrea noted they were the sharper defensive team too. But that went for naught because they failed to capitalize on a pair of Husky errors.
“I think we kind of played ourselves a little bit,” Harper said. “We needed that one quality at-bat. Taylor threw a hell of a game, and that’s softball for you.
“We gotta learn from our mistakes today. I thought we did a good job on defense as far as backing up Taylor, but we just have to step it up hitting-wise. ... We have to come back and do it for her. We missed that today. We didn’t have that punch back that we needed to.”
If there is any consolation, it’s that UCLA was stunned by Stanford in Palo Alto on Friday, meaning the Wildcats and Bruins remain tied for first place in the Pac-12.
The Wildcats are more focused on getting their bats going. They have been held to 11 runs in their last four games.
“At this point in time you can’t really look at rankings,” Harper said. “Softball is softball. Everyone is going to play this game. Sometimes it’s just how it works. You’re one hit away, one bad pitch, but I definitely have confidence in our hitters. Tomorrow is a new day. We’re going to come out, play our game and make a little bit better adjustments. We made adjustments at the end, but we have to make them sooner. We can’t wait until the last inning.”
A comebacker drilled McQuillin’s left leg with two outs in the fifth, but she shook it off and fired a couple warmup tosses before inducing a flyout to end the inning.
“People think it’s a shinner, but it actually hit me right in the kneecap,” she said. “It gave a little sting down my leg but at that moment I was like, ‘OK, where’s the ball? I can still get the out.’ I’m sure there’s a giant bruise on it, but it happens. It’s part of the game. When you leave a pitch over the plate, it’s going to get hit hard right back at you.”
Here’s Mike Candrea after Arizona Softball’s 2-1 loss to WashingtonPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, May 3, 2019
Jessie Harper had the lone RBI in Arizona Softball’s 2-1 loss to WashingtonPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, May 3, 2019
Here’s Taylor McQuillin after Arizona Softball’s 2-1 loss to Washington.Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Friday, May 3, 2019