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Arizona softball will have to solve road struggles to beat Arkansas, reach Women’s College World Series

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

Created in the 1920s, the Hog Call is one of the most unique chants in college sports.

In unison, Arkansas fans slowly raise their arms from their knees to their head while wiggling their fingers and cooing an eight-second “Woo” that builds in volume and pitch.

Then they yank down their arms, yell “Pig!” and pump their right fist while delivering a thundering “Sooie!”

The process repeats itself. Sometimes more than once.

“Woooooooo! Pig! Sooie!”

Arizona softball has never played at Bogle Park before, but longtime head coach Mike Candrea has seen the Razorbacks enough on the SEC Network to know what to expect in the Fayetteville Super Regional, a best-of-three series that will determine who moves on to the Women’s College World Series.

“Arkansas is a very solid team,” he said. “Starting in the circle, and they’re kind of a different offensive team. Lots of power numbers, kind of a grip-it-and-rip-it team, where we like to have a combination of our speed and our power. So there’s a little bit of a difference there.”

“And their fans love their team and they’re gonna come out and support them. There’ll be people out on the berm, there’ll be people all over the place, and the fortunate part is none of those people are playing the game.”

True, but there’s been a discernible difference between the way Arizona has played in front of their fans versus others. They are 28-3 at home and 11-10 on the road.

Some of that can be attributed to a tough road schedule and a soft home schedule. Not all of it. And while it doesn’t take an expert to identify Arizona’s road struggles, finding the impetus hasn’t been easy.

After their last road trip, a four-game split at Oregon, a mystified Candrea said “there’s no answer for it.”

“We have not been really great on the road, so hopefully this will be the turning point for the year,” he said Tuesday.

As usual, Candrea said winning the series will come down to three things: good pitching, solid defense and timely hitting. The first two haven’t been an underlying issue on the road.

Coming up with those clutch hits, though? That’s where the challenge lies. Arizona is averaging 8.4 runs at home compared to 3.5 on the road. 2.5 if you only include their road results against ranked teams. Arizona is 4-10 in those games, with eight of those losses coming by two runs or less.

“I think the big thing for us is to be aggressive and make sure that our eyes are in the right place, that we’re not chasing a lot of pitches that are out of the zone,” Candrea said. “Plate discipline is going to be important.”

So will not being so reliant on the long ball. One round of batting practice was enough for Arizona players to notice that the ball doesn’t carry the same at Bogle Park.

“The air is definitely thicker here. It is definitely not Home Run U,” said senior catcher Dejah Mulipola. “So I think it’s gonna be very important to hit line drives and a lot of ground balls this weekend.”

If there’s any reason to believe Arizona can solve their road struggles in Fayetteville, it’s that they arrive on a hot streak. They scored 31 runs in three Tucson Regional games, including a pair of 12-6 wins over Ole Miss. Arizona received contributions from their entire lineup and managed to erase a six-run deficit in the regional final, thanks to a season-high 19 hits.

That’s no easy feat against the Rebels, who entered that regional sixth in the SEC in ERA (2.52). Arkansas, which features SEC Pitcher of the Year Mary Haff and a very solid No. 2 in Autumn Storms, is fifth (2.06).

“I think our confidence has shot up through this weekend,” said redshirt freshman Sharlize Palacios, who had eight hits and 10 RBI in the Tucson Regional. “Ole Miss was a really good team and we were able to put a lot of runs on the board and string a lot of hits and pass the bat. So I think we’re doing really well and we just got to keep it rolling to this weekend.”

Arizona was backed by a capacity crowd in the Tucson Regional, helping them stage that epic comeback. This time, the 3,000 or so fans packed into Bogle Park will be Hog Calling for their beloved Razorbacks. The Wildcats haven’t faced anything like that during this COVID season, but they will have to find a way to tune it out and slow the game down.

Their season depends on it.

“Truthfully right now we just need to execute the game no matter where we’re at,” Candrea said. “And we’re gonna have to supply our own energy, we know that. And I think this team pretty much understands that at this stage of the game, there’s no tomorrow. You’re playing for your life to continue to play the game. And if that’s not something that motivates you, then I don’t know what to say.”

Series schedule

  • Friday — 4 p.m. PT, ESPNU
  • Saturday — 2 p.m. PT, ESPN2
  • Sunday — 6 p.m. PT, ESPN2