OKLAHOMA CITY — Arizona’s first Women’s College World Series opponent was a familiar foe. So is their second. The Wildcats will be rematching Florida State in an elimination game Saturday, the same team they played in a three-game series in Tallahassee in March.
Seminoles head coach Lonni Alameda sees some advantages to that.
“You have some familiarity, you know what they’re like,” she said. “It’s one thing to watch people on video, it’s another to be live against them, see the way they swing.”
Florida State won two of three against Arizona but all three games were decided by two runs or less. Arizona lost 4-2 and 2-0 while picking up a 1-0 win, thanks to a three-hit shutout by Mariah Lopez and RBI single by Sharlize Palacios.
Alameda acknowledged that FSU probably didn’t see Arizona’s best version of itself.
“We got them on the back half of a 10-day trip,” she said. “We know they were probably a little tired. The whole reason is for them to get on the road and see what it’s like. You get to a World Series, you got a 10-day trip. That’s what they planned their trip around. But very excited to play them. What a storied program. Great coaching staff. Great players. They have an amazing senior class. Just really looking forward to that. I know as a coach and players, it’s an honor to be here, an honor to play these kinds of teams.”
Arizona entered the WCWS with a sizzling offense but was stymied by Alabama ace Montana Fouts on Thursday, only mustering one run on two hits while striking out 16 times in the 5-1 loss.
That wasn’t all that different from what happened in Tallahassee in March. Arizona only scored three runs in three games against FSU while fanning 26 times. The Seminoles thrived with the pitching trio of Caylan Arnold, Katheryn Sandercock and Danielle Watson.
Sandercock is the ace, currently sporting a 1.14 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 153 innings. Arnold is the No. 2 with a 1.66 ERA in 118.1 innings.
“I think we’ve got three different pitchers with three different looks,” Alameda said. “So, Kat being a down ball pitcher. She’s worked really hard this year on the rise ball. So we were able to bring the rise ball in today too. Caylan, very good rise ball, but she’s developed her changeup and her drop ball. She’s able to compete there. Then you put Watson in there with a heavy, heavy fast ball and a really good off-speed rise ball.”
Arizona and Florida State both have Friday off, so to speak, but the Wildcats plan to use the day to get some swings in. Head coach Mike Candrea said his team struggled to get its timing down against the flamethrowing Fouts, but the players are confident they can rebound.
“As long as you have trust in yourself and the people in front of you and behind you, you’ll be good to go,” said senior shortstop Jessie Harper, who homered Thursday. “We are wearing Arizona on our chest, so we have a target on our backs no matter what. If we come out and play our game, we’ll be good to go.”
The Seminoles’ offense is looking to bounce back, too. They were shut out by UCLA ace Rachel Garcia in a 4-0 loss on Thursday.
Florida State typically has decent power (42 homers) and is extremely aggressive on the bases (110 steals). And while the Seminoles don’t hit for a high average (.261), they have often been able to come up with clutch hits when they need them.
That was the difference when Arizona faced them in March. The Wildcats actually outhit FSU 17-12 in that series but only had one hit in 13 at-bats with runners in scoring position in the two games they lost.
“Their back’s against the wall, too, so I think the team that plays the loosest, can take advantage of the opportunities, is playing the next game,” Alameda said. “But all we can control is the pitch that’s ahead of us. Just be present in the moment, just compete until we can’t go any more.”
ESPN broadcasters have been speculating that Candrea could retire after this season, meaning Saturday could be his last game day, but the 36-year head coach hasn’t declared his intentions one way or the other.
Either way, the Wildcats are cherishing the opportunity to play for him in Oklahoma City.
“This uniform is so special,” Harper said. “Stepping out on that field with my teammates is so special. We need to enjoy the little things, just look forward to the next game. We have another game. We’re going to make this our last run and make it as far as we possibly can. But just have trust in yourself and be super confident. At the end of the day we’ve put in the body of work and we’ve earned the right to be here.”
How to watch Saturday’s game
- Time: 11:30 a.m. PT
- TV channel: ESPN
- Live stream: WatchESPN
The winner will play in an another elimination game at 6:30 p.m. PT against Alabama or UCLA.