The moment was too big and the Washington Huskies were too good for the Arizona softball team.
Third-ranked UW completed the sweep of the sixth-ranked Wildcats on Sunday with a 7-4 win at Hillenbrand Stadium, spoiling senior day and leaving Arizona searching for answers.
“We need to find ourselves again,” said UA coach Mike Candrea. “I thought we just really let the game get a little quick on us and didn’t handle the pressure situations as well as I would like to see it. We’re going to have to be able to do that to move forward.”
And in a hurry. The Wildcats, losers of four of their last five, wrap up the regular season at No. 2 UCLA next weekend. Once looking like a sure thing to host Super Regionals, Arizona might need a win in Westwood to secure a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“I think this weekend was a little setback for us but it means we can only go up from here,” said ace Taylor McQuillin. “I definitely think our team has worked our butts off to earn a top eight seed, but at the end of the day it’s up to how we perform and we really gotta bounce back next weekend.”
Aside from a March win against Florida State, Arizona has fallen short against the nation’s best teams time and time again.
The trio of losses to Washington moves its record to 1-8 against the top-10, showing there is a clear divide between the Wildcats and the Women’s College World Series contender they aspire to be.
Time is running out, but center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, who had seven hits in the series, is confident they can bridge the gap.
“It’s not like these were blowout games,” she said. “We kept it close, we just didn’t have the right hit at the right time. … We’ll break that door down soon. There’s no doubt about it.”
The Wildcats came out swinging Sunday. Washington always swung back.
UA shortstop Jessie Harper kicked off the scoring by blasting a two-run homer in the bottom of the first.
A half inning later, Madison Huskey singled through the right side to get Washington on the board. Then SilentRain Espinoza clubbed a three-run homer to center to make it 4-2.
Palomino-Cardoza answered by ripping a two-out, two-run double to tie it at 4-all heading into the third, but Washington reclaimed the lead in the fourth when Megan Vandegrift narrowly beat a throw to the plate after Harper made a diving stop.
Sami Reynolds then drilled a single past Harper to plate two more and chase McQuillin out of the game.
McQuillin surrendered 10 hits and two walks in three innings in her final regular-season home game, her shortest start of the season. Alyssa Denham threw four scoreless innings in relief.
“It was really just me leaving pitches over the plate,” said McQuillin, who called the day “bittersweet.”
UW starter Gabbie Plain wasn’t missing any bats either, so the Huskies summoned Taran Alvelo in the third. She entered to a scattering of boos, a reaction to her hitting Reyna Carranco with a pitch Saturday, potentially ending the star second baseman’s season.
But Alvelo, who led UW to the WCWS championship series last year, wasn’t fazed.
Not one bit.
The hard-throwing right-hander pitched five dominant innings, allowing one hit and striking out six, retiring the final six batters she faced.
“We just could not catch up to her speed,” Candrea said.
The question is: Will they ever?
“This is a good team, but for them to be a great team, they have to learn from this experience and they have to change something,” Candrea said. “They have to embrace the pressure. .... There’s a big difference when you get to that very top of the pyramid because these games are going to be close. So, you have to match a pitch for pitch, you have to be able to have some quality at-bats and play good defense. And I just thought throughout the weekend we didn’t quite put it all together enough to beat a team of that caliber.”
Here’s Mike Candrea on Arizona being swept by WashingtonPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, May 5, 2019
Here’s Taylor McQuillin on senior day and Arizona Softball being swept by WashingtonPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, May 5, 2019
Here’s center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza on Arizona being swept by WashingtonPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, May 5, 2019