OKLAHOMA CITY — Arizona softball returned to the Women’s College World Series in style.
Playing in Oklahoma City for the first time since 2010, the Wildcats beat the Washington Huskies 3-1 in eight innings Thursday to move into the winner’s bracket.
Dejah Mulipola provided the late heroics, lifting a two-run homer to center to put Arizona on top. The other stars were Jessie Harper, who homered in the sixth, and Taylor McQuillin who allowed just six hits in a complete-game effort.
Our full recap can be read here. Below is what head coach Mike Candrea had to say at his postgame presser. The Wildcats return to action Friday to take on UCLA at 4 p.m. PT.
Q. You used a Navy SEAL program at the beginning of the season to try to build team chemistry. Where did you come up with that? Did you have a day like today in mind for that?
I had a year like this year in mind, to be honest with you. I really felt like I needed a resource to maybe give a different approach. Instead of me talking about it, someone else talking about it. I had the opportunity when I was with the Olympic team to do some training with the Navy SEALs. I thought it was a pretty powerful and neat exercise.
I got contacted by this group. The one thing I liked about it was we had a Navy SEAL, we also had a guy that understood the game of baseball and softball. He could relate a lot of the stuff we were doing to the game.
The only thing I really wanted to do was to put kids in different leadership roles and see how they would respond. I think that was one aspect that came out of it.
The other was just paying attention to details. When you’re a Navy SEAL, little things can be life-threatening. This team kind of took some of the stuff from that training and they’ve kind of gone with it.
But this is a good group of athletes, a good group of young ladies. They worked very hard to get to this moment. Once you get here, you still have to perform. So I was very pleased today that they showed some grit.
But the thing I was probably most pleased with was they handled the big moment. That’s been our theme ever since we lost three games to Washington. That was the message. We didn’t handle the big moment then, so it’s kind of nice to see that work pay off for them.
Q. Taran Alvelo started the game after the walk by striking out seven straight batters. What was the conversation like in the dugout to flip the script?
She’s a good pitcher. The big thing is you have to be short. You can’t match power with power. Screwball, curve. We know what was there. I thought she looked really good early in the game.
It’s one thing to have a plan, but I don’t think many of you would understand what it’s like to be in a batter’s box and try to face 70 miles an hour. That element right there is even tough no matter what.
The big thing, I was trying to get off the knob, square the ball up, not try to pull everything. The second time around I thought we started making some adjustments. I think it began with Malia Martinez hitting the ball to right field. I think that kind of gave the rest of our hitters a little bit of a boost mentally.
But it’s a game of making adjustments. She’s a tough one. She’s an outstanding pitcher.
Q. You talk about living in the big moment. Taylor as a senior, she’s come so close to being in this moment. Talk about the growth you’ve seen and her performance today.
I think sometimes your failures in life is truly what allows you to grow. Too many times in this game when you’re winning all the time, I know for myself, you kind of take it for granted. But those losses kind of eat at you.
I think Taylor has learned a lot of things from those moments. She’s continued to work hard. I give a lot of credit to Taryne Mowatt for kind of retooling her a little bit. But I really believe the retooling for us with her was just mentally, being able to show some emotion on the mound, being able to have some energy so that she doesn’t look like she’s on an island by herself.
I’m proud. I think that work really helped today in those moments.
Q. What does it take to beat UCLA?
Well, we’ve played them before, so there’s a lot of -- we’re familiar with one another. On this stage, at this moment, it’s just about competing like we did today. You have to have great pitching. You got to play good defense. You have to have some timely hits.
I think any time we’re playing a Pac-12 foe, they are very familiar with us, it’s going to come down to that. This game kind of brought me back to the ‘90s, believe it or not. I’m probably older than most of you in this room. That’s what softball used to look like. You would compete, compete, compete. It was a pitcher’s duel. All of a sudden someone found a way to score a run.
I thought it was quite ironic today that Harper’s home run went out, they came back and tied it up. Both pitchers were phenomenal. I mean, it was just a really good, fast pitch softball game today.