The Arizona Wildcats faced their first top-10 opponent this weekend since early March, when they went 1-2 in a three-game series against defending champion Florida State.
Prior to Pac-12 play, the Wildcats dominated teams ranked outside the top 10, but couldn’t quite make it happen against the sport’s elite. Things haven’t changed over the ensuing two months if the Washington series was any indication.
The most serious “down” of the weekend was the loss of Reyna Carranco. The Wildcats’ best hitter was hit by Taran Alvelo in the first inning of Saturday’s game, causing fractures in one hand and in the thumb on her other hand.
It is the second year in a row that Alvelo has knocked Carranco out of a game and forced her to miss part of the season. Last year, it was a hit to the face. There’s no timeline for Carranco’s return.
Now, on to the on-field pluses and negatives.
Never give up
Arizona fell behind in both of the first two games, but they never stopped fighting. The Wildcats got two runners on in the seventh inning of both games, cutting the lead in half in the first game, but were unable to come back.
In the second game, a defensive miscue in the first inning could have taken Rylee Pierce out of the game. She didn’t let it. When she came up to bat in the bottom of the second, she grabbed a hold of a 1-0 pitch and knocked it over the centerfield fence. The Wildcats were back in business, tied up 1-1.
Whether it was Gina Snyder coming in to relieve Alyssa Denham or Denham coming in to relieve Taylor McQuillin, the pitchers also did all they could to lift each other. After Denham gave up three runs over five innings in game two, Snyder came in and shut the Huskies down. When McQuillin struggled in game three, Denham shut them down over the final four innings.
Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza continues to shine
Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza is up there with Carranco as the two best hitters on the team. With Carranco out for an undetermined period of time, Palomino-Cardoza’s importance will be magnified. She showed that she was up to the task against the tough Washington pitching.
Palomino-Cardoza is hitting .383 for the season with 14 home runs. She hit two more doubles against Washington, giving her a conference-leading 18 for the season.
It wasn’t just one good day or one good game for Palomino-Cardoza, though. She had at least two hits in each game against the Huskies, posting a .583 batting average and a .750 slugging percentage for the series.
Honoring the seniors
While it may not have been the way they wanted to end their regular-season careers at Hillenbrand, all six Arizona seniors saw time on the field during the series. McQuillin threw ten innings over two games, with a strong performance in the first game. Snyder held Washington to one hit in her two innings of relief, sitting down six of the seven batters she faced.
Pierce had just one hit in the series, but it was a big home run that tied things up in the second game. T Statman and Hillary Edior shared time in the DP role, and Joelle Krist replaced Pierce at first base for the final two innings of the series finale.
Each of the seniors was honored with a video narrated by one of her teammates before walking onto the field to accept their framed jersey from Candrea.
Can’t get over the top-10 hump
Arizona played a challenging non-conference schedule, going up against teams ranked in the top 10 six times. The problem was that they went 1-5 in those games. The last one of those match-ups, a 4-3 loss to FSU, was immediately followed by a 21-game winning streak. The reality, though, was that winning streak was not against the strongest competition.
The Pac-12 is not as strong as it has been in past years. The flood of transfers that continued up until two weeks before the season left powerful programs like Oregon and ASU depleted. So while a 16-game conference winning streak is impressive, it’s not as impressive as it would have been in previous years.
The conference has three elite teams at this point—Arizona, UCLA and Washington—and one solid team in Stanford. The Wildcats have dominated the lesser teams in the conference, outscoring them 153-19. Against the Huskies, the Wildcats not only lost their first Pac-12 series, they were swept. They never really threatened Washington, losing by a cumulative score of 12-6. They led only once all weekend—a 2-0 lead in the first inning of the final game.
Lack of timely hitting
Arizona left 20 runners on base over the weekend. Nine of those were in the opening game, a game they would lose by one run despite out-hitting and inducing two errors from the Huskies. Arizona coach Mike Candrea said that the Wildcats simply weren’t waiting long enough against Washington pitcher Gabbie Plain; they were getting out in front.
“I’m really happy that in the last inning we had some opportunities, but it’s tough to win when you leave that many runners on base,” Candrea said after game one. “We had some opportunities with runners at second with no outs, first and second with no outs, and we just couldn’t get the hits.”
Arizona started off game two the same way. Palomino-Cardoza led off with a hard-hit single. She was promptly erased on a fielder’s choice. The Wildcats put two more on base in the inning, but couldn’t get anyone across the plate. By the time that game concluded with a 3-1 Washington victory, Arizona had left eight on base.
The Wildcats gave up a run in the first inning of game two that was technically earned, but it was the result of a defensive miscue nonetheless.
After a double by Sami Reynolds, Kaija Gibson hit a short grounder to the right side. Pierce was drawn in to field the ball, but neither Carranco nor Denham covered first. As the Wildcats stood there looking at each other, Reynolds motored around the bases. By the time Pierce turned around and threw the ball home, Reynolds was already there.
“I think it was just kind of a weirdly placed hit,” Denham said. “And maybe a little bit of miscommunication.”
In the next at-bat, catcher Dejah Mulipola added a throwing error, airmailing the ball into center field when no one was covering second. The Wildcats were lucky to get out of the inning when the Huskies got greedy and tried to take an extra base, but still.
In game three, the Wildcats allowed the Huskies to take the extra base more than once by failing to hit the cutoff when there was no chance of a play at home. Washington was focused and aggressive, taking advantage and making Arizona pay for the mistakes all weekend.
Throughout the series, it seemed like the Wildcats let things get into their heads. Whether it was the umpiring, the pressure of Washington’s pitching, or the desire to be the hero, they couldn’t stay settled in the batter’s box or the circle.
Now, it’s on to UCLA to wrap up the regular season. While the Wildcats will undoubtedly host the regionals the following week, their fate beyond that appears far less settled than it was last week.
Arizona came into the week sitting at No. 3 in the RPI. That would have guaranteed home field until time for Oklahoma City. Now, they have to scrape to stay in the top eight or their best-case scenario is being shipped off to someone’s home field for a best-of-three Super Regional series.