[ {"id":"93594c3d-d0c1-5914-90e1-5fc6c5c4be83","type":"article","starttime":"1495862100","starttime_iso8601":"2017-05-26T22:15:00-07:00","lastupdated":"1495862585","priority":45,"sections":[{"greghansen":"sports/greghansen"},{"softball":"sports/arizonawildcats/softball"}],"flags":{"editors_pick":"true","top_story":"true"},"application":"editorial","title":"Greg Hansen: 'Big Kat' has Arizona Wildcats one step from college softball destiny","url":"http://tucson.com/sports/greghansen/article_93594c3d-d0c1-5914-90e1-5fc6c5c4be83.html","permalink":"http://tucson.com/sports/greghansen/greg-hansen-big-kat-has-arizona-wildcats-one-step-from/article_93594c3d-d0c1-5914-90e1-5fc6c5c4be83.html","canonical":"http://tucson.com/sports/greghansen/greg-hansen-big-kat-has-arizona-wildcats-one-step-from/article_93594c3d-d0c1-5914-90e1-5fc6c5c4be83.html","relatedAssetCounts":{"article":0,"audio":0,"image":1,"link":0,"vmix":0,"youtube":0,"gallery":0},"prologue":"Katiyana Mauga went deep again Friday night, and one of softball's biggest records may well be broken soon.\u00a0","supportsComments":true,"commentCount":0,"keywords":[],"internalKeywords":["#latest","#top5sports","#editorspick","#topread","#hansen","#column"],"customProperties":{"arm_id":"76893"},"presentation":"","images":[{"id":"132303ec-a4f3-5e7c-93be-60b71ab60fd4","description":"Arizona\u2019s Katiyana Mauga, flashing the Wildcats hand sign, homered in the fourth inning to give the UA a 2-0 lead against Baylor.","byline":"Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star","hireswidth":1266,"hiresheight":1349,"hiresurl":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/1/32/132303ec-a4f3-5e7c-93be-60b71ab60fd4/5929017f7b2fb.hires.jpg","presentation":"","versions":{"full":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"713","height":"760","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/1/32/132303ec-a4f3-5e7c-93be-60b71ab60fd4/5929017f797d4.image.jpg?resize=713%2C760"},"100": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"100","height":"107","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/1/32/132303ec-a4f3-5e7c-93be-60b71ab60fd4/5929017f797d4.image.jpg?resize=100%2C107"},"300": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"300","height":"320","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/1/32/132303ec-a4f3-5e7c-93be-60b71ab60fd4/5929017f797d4.image.jpg?resize=300%2C320"},"1024":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1024","height":"1091","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/1/32/132303ec-a4f3-5e7c-93be-60b71ab60fd4/5929017f797d4.image.jpg?resize=1024%2C1091"}}}],"revision":8,"commentID":"93594c3d-d0c1-5914-90e1-5fc6c5c4be83","body":"

The mothers, fathers, sisters and daughters of college softball have not fully utilized the romance of the home run. There is no Bambino, no Hammerin\u2019 Hank, no Reggie! Reggie! Reggie!

Instead, there is Oklahoma\u2019s Lauren Chamberlain, whose 95 home runs from 2012-15 stand alone at the top. But Chamberlain was a leadoff hitter, and how long can a leadoff hitter expect to be anyone\u2019s home run queen?

Sooner or later someone\u2019s going to hit 96, or even better, 100, and when they do, college softball will have a Home Run Queen, in capital letters, its first true Big Bam or whatever the acceptable female equivalent is.

That someone could be Arizona senior third baseman Katiyana Mauga, who has 92 home runs and a finite period \u2014 two more weeks, maximum \u2014 to hit Nos. 95 and 96 or more, and become the Big Kat.

After Mauga hit home run Nos. 90 and 91 in the NCAA regionals last week, former Arizona Republic sportswriter Bob Crawford dispatched an email asking why no one thought to refer to Mauga as Big Kat.

First, given the sensitivities of the day, it was necessary to determine if anyone would be offended. It\u2019s not like baseball, where nicknames forever thrive \u2014 Big Poison, Big Unit, Big Hurt, Big Papi \u2014 but there has been no objection.

So on Friday night, Mauga, aka Big Kat, probably had the most meaningful game of her college career. She hit a home run, a double and a single as he Wildcats won 3-2 on Jessie Harper\u2019s walk-off single in the seventh inning.

But it wasn\u2019t Mauga\u2019s 3 for 3 that won the game. It was probably her walk in the seventh, fighting off 10 pitches, refusing to give in during the most important inning of Arizona\u2019s long season.

\u201cI don\u2019t think they wanted any part of her,\u201d said UA coach Mike Candrea.

For Arizona to go beyond the warning track in the Women\u2019s College World Series, it figures that Mauga will need to do what Chamberlain did in her Oklahoma career, which was rise to the occasion and carry a team on her bat.

At OU, Chamberlain hit 18 home runs in the postseason, with a .416 batting average. That means 16 percent of her NCAA-leading 95 long-balls were in the postseason. Chamberlain\u2019s Sooners reached the World Series three times, winning in 2013 and finishing second in 2012.

Mauga entered Friday\u2019s game at Hillenbrand with just three post-season home runs and a .245 career postseason batting average. In all other career games, Mauga has batted .352. She has hit six home runs against New Mexico State, and dozens of others against Fordham, Ball State, UTEP, Drake and other assorted victims.

But on Friday it meant so much more than a homer against Ball State.

Mauga\u2019s third inning homer, giving Arizona a 2-0 lead, came after she patiently waited for a good pitch, after Baylor appeared to be avoiding throwing the ball over the plate.

\u201cWe know who she is,\u201d said Baylor coach Glenn Moore. \u201cWe\u2019d (scouted) about 40 of her at-bats on video. (We) just threw her a pitch we wanted back.\u201d

This isn\u2019t meant to be critical of Mauga. Baseball and softball players historically build their statistics against secondary starting pitchers and lesser teams. Willie Mays, for example, batted .475 in his career against Clem Labine and .196 against the great Bob Gibson .

The further Arizona advances, the better pitching it faces. When the Wildcats won their last national title, 2007, it played three World Series games against the inestimable Monica Abbott of Tennessee, who entered the series with a 50-2 record.

Yet somehow, shortstop Kristie Fox hit .481 in the last 10 postseason games, which included a 3-for-3 day with a home run as Arizona beat Baylor 2-1 in the World Series.

You\u2019ve got to play like a Fox to go deep in college softball. On Friday, Mauga played like a Fox and then some.

One thing that goes unsaid is that Mauga sees fewer and fewer pitches in the strike zone as the season progresses. She has already been walked 151 times in her career and leads the Pac-12 in walks this season (43) and was second last year (43). Here\u2019s where statistics lie: Mauga has been intentionally walked seven times in her career but, wink-wink, she\u2019s probably been unintentionally-intentionally walked 100 times.

She saw 26 pitches Friday and never seemed to swing at anything but a strike. In a game so close that the margin of error was probably one pitch, Mauga helped to win the game as much by being smart (and cool) as by anything else.

\u201cCoach said \u2018be calm,\u2019\u201d she said. \u201cIf I swing out of my shoes, it\u2019s not something I want or my teammates want.\u201d

As Arizona bids to return to the World Series for the first time since 2010, Mauga is batting .545 in the postseason, with three home runs.

Talk about a senior moment.

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I met Rudy Castro the day Arizona\u2019s 71-game McKale Center winning streak was broken by UCLA, 1992. I\u2019d heard many things about Rudy \u2014 a Marine, a politician, a baseball coach and a math teacher \u2014 and what I didn\u2019t know he filled in.

He said he had been part of a longer winning streak, and a few other things.

\u201cI played at Bear Down Gym the day Arizona won its 80th straight game in 1951,\u201d he said. \u201cI played basketball for and against Arizona, and made the winning shot to beat them one night. Do you know anybody else who did that?\u201d

I did not.

I knew that Castro was one of the leading shortstops in Tucson history, captain of Tucson High\u2019s 1948 state championship team, and the starting shortstop for the first Arizona team to reach the College World Series, 1954. I knew that he was the 1974 All-City baseball coach at Cholla High School, and that any time I went to a baseball game at Hi Corbett Field, Rudy would be holding court in the grandstands.

But basketball? Rudy was maybe 5 feet 6 inches tall.

\u201cLook it up,\u201d he said.

I did not look it up until Tuesday, when Rudy\u2019s friend, Pac-12 basketball referee Bob Scofield, called to say Rudy, 87, died overnight. By the end of the day, at least 10 more people delivered the same message.

\u201cRudy\u2019s gone,\u201d they\u2019d say.

\u201cRudy was a happy person,\u201d said Walt Roberson, the manager of Arizona\u2019s early-\u201950s baseball teams and longtime UA administrator. \u201cHe always had a smile and a friendly hello.\u201d

But basketball?

The UA basketball media guide does not list Rudy Castro on any Wildcat team, ever. He is not among the hundreds of players whose career statistics are recorded, and his photograph is not in the team displays at McKale. I suspected his basketball days ended when he was voted to the 1949 All-City team, part of the Badgers\u2019 23-0 championship team.

And then I found this in the archives:

\u201cDiminutive Rudy Castro, the smallest man on the court, spurred Arizona\u2019s rally with his ball-hawking. He stole passes all during the third and fourth periods and at times had the Gents perplexed with his tactics.\u201d

Rudy scored five points that night, Dec. 13, 1952, as Centenary (the Gentlemen) beat Arizona 53-52 at Bear Down Gym.

And as for those other teams he played for at Bear Down Gym? He was right about those, too. On the night Arizona won its 80th straight game, beating the San Diego Marines on Nov. 27, 1951, Rudy Castro, a proud member of the U.S. Marine Corps, played against the UA freshmen as Camp Pendleton\u2019s starting point guard.

A year earlier, he played for Palo Verde Junior College against the UA freshman team at Bear Down Gym. The winning shot he mentioned? That\u2019s true, too. Castro swished a shot at the buzzer as his California JC team beat Arizona 49-47.

On Tuesday, I found all of that and much more.

I found he married his high school sweetheart, Mina, and that she tragically died during childbirth in 1961, as did their infant son, Eddie, leaving Rudy a widower with two young children.

And I found that after his basketball and baseball days he became a teacher at Roskruge Junior High School, where his influence went beyond the ballpark.

\u201cHe was truly an original. There weren\u2019t very many places in Tucson that you could go where he was not known,\u201d said Delano Price, a star on Tucson High\u2019s 1969 state basketball championship team and a TUSD educator and administrator for 30 years. \u201cWe are fellow Badgers and fellow state basketball champions. He was also my junior high teacher and football coach. He was a Marine who taught us hard work and discipline.\u201d

After he retired from his political life, Rudy bought seasons tickets at Hillenbrand Stadium, sitting behind home plate, admiring the skill and execution of Mike Candrea\u2019s softball players. But at heart, he remained a shortstop, the man whose squeeze bunt beat Texas in the 1953 NCAA playoffs.

Before he died, Rudy asked his four children to bury him in an Arizona baseball jersey. Scofield, who lives nearby in the Reid Park neighborhood, said he\u2019d take care of it.

He contacted UA baseball coach Jay Johnson. Was it possible to get a jersey for Rudy?

\u201cWhat number?\u201d Johnson asked.

\u201cFourteen.\u201d

A day later, Scofield went to Hi Corbett Field. Johnson handed him a pinstriped UA baseball jersey, No. 14.

That\u2019s better than a squeeze bunt to beat Texas any day.

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Sixteen-year NFL quarterback Rodney Peete, World Series first baseman Chris Duncan and Arizona football coach Dick Tomey are among 14 men and women selected to the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame\u2019s Class of 2017.

Pat Darcy, president of the PCSHF, announced Tuesday that the 2017 class includes three sets of siblings, a first in the 28-year history of the Hall of Fame.

Canyon del Oro High School\u2019s Chris Duncan and his older brother, Shelley Duncan, who combined to play 12 seasons of major-league baseball, will join Salpointe Catholic graduates Sybil Dosty a basketball standout, and Whitney Dosty, a professional volleyball player, and former Santa Rita High School basketball stars Jim Pyers and Paula Pyers in the Class of 2017.

They will be featured at a news conference Aug. 9 at the DoubleTree Hotel. The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held Oct. 29 at 11:45 a.m. at the DoubleTree.

\u201cThe depth of this class is remarkable,\u201d said Darcy, who pitched for the champion Cincinnati Reds in the 1975 World Series. \u201cIt is diverse and reflects the athletic excellence of our local athletes, coaches and officials through the years.\u201d

Here is the Class of 2017:

Kelly Sliva-McKee. The 1979 Catalina High School graduate was an all-state volleyball player who became a three-year starter at Arizona and later an assistant coach at USC and Texas-Arlington. She coached NAU to two Big Sky Championships and later became the head coach at New Mexico.

Whitney Dosty. Ranked the No. 4 overall volleyball recruit and the 2005 Arizona Volleyball Player of the Year at Salpointe, she also won the state high jump title. Dosty became part of the All-Pac-10 freshman team at Arizona and played on Team USA in the 2007 FIVB U-20 World Championships. After leaving Arizona, Dosty played professional volleyball in Puerto Rico, Switzerland, Korea and Turkey.

Sybil Dosty. Despite tearing her ACL in both knees during her Salpointe Catholic days, Dosty was the Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year in 2003, leading the Lancers to the state championship game. She averaged 27 points and 11 rebounds during her high school career. She was part of the nation\u2019s No. 1 recruiting class at Tennessee, helping the Volunteers to the 2005 Final Four. She transferred to Arizona State and became the Pac-10 Scholar-Athlete of the Year for women\u2019s basketball, then played professionally in Spain, Thailand and Poland before becoming an assistant coach at Seattle.

Rodney Peete. As a Sahuaro High athlete, Peete pitched the Cougars to the 1982 state championship and was a key part of the 1981 state championship basketball team. He was the Arizona high school Athlete of the Year in 1983 and became a first-team All-America quarterback at USC in 1988, helping the Trojans to the Rose Bowl. He played 16 seasons in the NFL; his 2003 Carolina Panthers reached Super Bowl XXXVIII.

Pam Reed. The director of the Tucson Marathon since 1995, Reed won the 2002 Badwater 135, beating all men and women runners in a 135-mile, non-stop run across Death Valley with temperatures near 120 degrees. She has run 11 Badwater marathons and more than 100 UltraMarathons and was named the 2003 USA Women\u2019s UltraMarathon runner of the Year. In 2007, she ran 300 miles without stopping on a frontage road near Eloy, the longest distance running feat of its time.

Jane Martindell. After graduating from Rincon High School, Martindell became captain of Arizona\u2019s basketball, softball and volleyball teams and was selected to the UA Sports Hall of Fame in 1996. She founded Tucson\u2019s first women\u2019s AAU basketball program and became the head softball coach at Northern Colorado and Yale, taking UNC to a No. 2 finish nationally, and later was named the Ivy League coach of the year.

Shelley Duncan. Upon leading Canyon del Oro High School to the 1997 state baseball championship, Duncan set Tucson records for home runs in a season (13) and career (27). He then became a first-team All-American at Arizona, setting the school career home run record (55) that still stands. He played five years in the major leagues, with the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians.

Chris Duncan. At Canyon del Oro High School, Chris was a two-time all-city football linebacker and an all-state first baseman, helping the Dorados to the 1997 state title. He was a first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals and hit 55 home runs in the big leagues. He started three games in the 2006 World Series as the Cardinals became world champions.

Ken Kurtz. A rare-two sport letterman at Arizona, in basketball and baseball in the mid 1960s, Kurtz played six years in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system. He returned to Tucson and for 31 years was one of the leading officials in Arizona. He officiated basketball in the Pac-10, Big Sky, WAC and WCAC conferences and three times earned assignments in the NIT. He coached seven years in a variety of sports at Santa Rita High School.

Jim Pyers. He led Santa Rita High School with a 24.8 points scoring average in 1978, leading the Eagles to the state basketball championship game. A year later, he scored 52 points in a game and averaged 25. He then started for four seasons at NAIA power Grand Canyon University, twice an all-conference selection. After college, Pyers played professionally in Switzerland and later was head coach of the Swiss national team.

Paula Pyers. In 1984, Pyers scored 50 points at Santa Rita High School, then the highest total in a single game in state girls basketball history. She led the Eagles to a 28-0 season in 1984 and scored 2,082 points, then the top figure in state history. She played four years at USC, including back-to-back NCAA championships, and was the captain of the Trojans\u2019 1988 team. She also played on the USC women\u2019s soccer team and later played professionally in Switzerland.

Brian Peabody. The Sahuaro High School grad coached state championship basketball teams at Green Fields Country Day School and at Ironwood Ridge High School. He has won more than 500 games as a coach, including two trips to the state championship game at Salpointe Catholic in the 1990s. He also played for Sahuaro\u2019s 1981 state championship team. In 2016-17, Peabody coached Pima Community College to its most victories since 1992, won the Region 1 championship, and led the Aztecs to seventh place in the NJCAA championships.

Robbie Moen. Twice an All-Pac-10 outfielder at Arizona, batting .402 in 1991, Moen was a scout for the Tampa Bay Rays for seven years. At Flowing Wells High School, he hit .473 and was the 1989 Arizona Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He was also an all-city wide receiver. Moen later coached baseball at Kansas State and Loyola-Marymount.

Dick Tomey. In 14 years at Arizona, 1987-2000, Tomey\u2019s football teams won a school-record 95 games, including the top season in school history, 12-1, in 1998, when Arizona finished No. 4 nationally. Tomey\u2019s teams of 1992, 1993 and 1994 were known as \u201cDesert Swarm,\u201d defenses that led the nation in rushing defense and scoring defense. His 1993 team, 10-2, beat Miami in the Fiesta Bowl and finished tied for first place in the Pac-10, the school\u2019s top finish since joining the league in 1978.

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Three hours after losing to Oklahoma at the 1988 Final Four, junior Sean Elliott knocked on the hotel room door of Arizona assistant coach Kevin O\u2019Neill.

It was midnight.

\u201cI\u2019m entering the NBA draft,\u201d Elliott said.

KO asked Elliott to sit down while he phoned Lute Olson.

\u201cWhen I went in to see KO, I was never more sure that I was going into the draft,\u201d Elliott said a few days later.

And why not? Elliott was a first-team All-American who had scored 31 points against the Sooners that night. He was the Pac-10 Player of the Year, already a legend in his hometown. What else did he have to prove at Arizona?

Elliott, Olson and O\u2019Neill talked until 3 a.m. It\u2019s one of the best stories in the history of Arizona sports.

\u201cI was changing my mind three or four times a week,\u201d Elliott said.

When the broken-hearted Wildcats flew from Kansas City back to Tucson, Elliott went to Olson\u2019s office so he could use (for free) the coach\u2019s office phone, from which he called a half-dozen NBA front office people.

He later accompanied Olson to Los Angeles, where they watched the Lakers and talked to more NBA people. (This was before the so-called \u201ctest-the-draft-process days.\u201d)

Finally, on April 11, 1988, nine days after the stinging loss in Kansas City, Elliott walked into a press conference at McKale Center wearing a white UA basketball T-shirt and a pair of sunglasses.

\u201cI\u2019m staying,\u201d he said.

His smile lit up the room, as if someone had turned the lights to extra-bright.

Monday afternoon, Rawle Alkins walked into a press conference at McKale Center wearing the kind of clothes you\u2019d wear to a job interview. He, too, lit up the room with the kind of smile that suggests he is at peace with his decision to stay and play.

\u201cIt\u2019s crazy to think that just a year ago, before my first college game, I was nervous as ever,\u201d Alkins said. \u201cI was scared.\u201d

By late May, even though he has scored 2,151 fewer points than Sean Elliott, Alkins sent a scare through Tucsonans when he examined the NBA draft process.

Alkins hasn\u2019t yet been a Pac-12 all-star \u2014 he\u2019s wasn\u2019t the leading scorer on his team, or even second \u2014 but college basketball has changed so extensively since 1988 that when Alkins announced he will return it had the same theatrical elements and the same it\u2019s-a-great-day-to-live-in-Tucson reception as that April afternoon 29 years ago.

\u201cToday, it\u2019s easy to feel good about sitting here,\u201d said UA coach Sean Miller. \u201cBut if Rawle had chosen to leave, I\u2019d feel equally good for him.\u201d

Alkins is the type of guy who can win a popularity contest after he beats you with a deep 3-pointer.

Given the surplus of talent on Miller\u2019s 2017-18 roster, it\u2019s possible that Alkins won\u2019t average more than the 10 points and 28 minutes he played as a freshman. But Alkins isn\u2019t a boxscore guy. He\u2019s blessed with intangibles that aren\u2019t manifest on the Kenpom.com reports.

\u201cHe\u2019s as likeable of a teammate as we\u2019ve ever had here,\u201d said Miller. \u201cHis personality shines through as being genuine and honest.\u201d

It\u2019s just what a squad brimming with as much talent as any in UA history needs: An unselfish, prototypical glue guy.

The comparisons between Alkins and Elliott don\u2019t go very far; Elliott was 6 inches taller and a national Player of the Year as a senior. But their reasons for returning to school have a connection.

\u201cIf I went to the Lakers now, I\u2019d sit on the bench,\u201d Elliott said at his 1988 press conference. \u201cAnd, really, what would I do to help the Lakers? When I go to the NBA, I want to be completely ready and be an All-Star.\u201d

Elliott made the NBA All-Star teams of 1993 and 1996.

On Monday, Alkins said NBA people told him that \u201conce I get a reliable jump shot I\u2019ll be virtually unstoppable.\u201d But first he must develop that reliable jumper. Alkins pledged to be a gym rat until the Wildcats open the season in November.

There might be another part to this: Alkins\u2019 investigation of the draft process surely included some sobering moments. Oregon\u2019s two-time Pac-12 Player of the Year, Dillon Brooks, who averaged 22 points and shot 60 percent against Arizona in those two seasons, is not a likely first-round draft pick.

And if Brooks isn\u2019t a first-rounder, how can the Rawle Alkins of 2017 hope to be?

Draft Express, which is as thorough as any college basketball evaluation outlet, suggests that Brooks lacks length, burst and strength, is an average ball-handler, isn\u2019t a shot-creator, a quick jumper nor does he has the ability to defend NBA wings.

Its final assessment: \u201cBrooks lacks elite strength and lateral quickness; he\u2019ll have to carve out a (part-time) role in the NBA.\u201d

Whoa. This isn\u2019t kid\u2019s play.

We\u2019ll probably never know what truly spurred Alkins\u2019 decision to return to Arizona, but it seems to be in his best interests.

Beyond Elliott, the four most notable draft-worthy Wildcats who chose to stay at McKale Center an extra year \u2014 Sean Rooks, Chris Mills, Damon Stoudamire and Michael Dickerson \u2014 combined to play 41 NBA seasons, retiring an the average age of 32, earning a combined $198 million, according to basketball-reference.com.

Rawle Alkins is 19 years old. You can find him in the gym.

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South Carolina softball coach Beverly Smith long ago knew the itinerary of the Gamecock\u2019s five-day visit to Tucson: They would do some sight-seeing at Sabino Canyon, eat at P.F. Chang\u2019s, treasure the ESPN broadcast highlights of their victories over St. Francis, and face what Arizona coach Mike Candrea called \u201ca bunch of bashers.\u201d

If there\u2019s anything a Gamecocks softball coach knows, it\u2019s that playing Candrea\u2019s Wildcats is likely to result in more in a bashing than it is to be a bash.

In 1996, No. 1 Arizona beat the Gamecocks in California.

In 1999, No. 2 Arizona beat the Gamecocks in Tempe.

In 2000, No. 4 Arizona beat the Gamecocks in the Fiesta Bowl invitational.

And in 2001, No. 3 Arizona again beat the Gamecocks in Phoenix.

So when Smith and her softball team discovered they would be playing No. 2 Arizona at Hillenbrand Stadium, it probably wasn\u2019t a \u201cwe\u2019ve got this\u201d moment.

The Gamecocks know the drill.

The Wildcats beat South Carolina 5-0 Saturday and 9-0 Sunday to advance to the NCAA Super Regional and in doing so limited the Gamecocks to a .157 batting average, as you might expect for a team with the nation\u2019s No. 6 overall ERA, 1.35.

But what didn\u2019t go as expected was that Arizona was not a bunch of bashers but a bunch of slappers. The Wildcats, who lead the nation with 89 home runs, hit just two home runs in two days. They beat the Gamecocks with the most unexpected of all things, small ball.

\u201cTheir short game is what really won the games for them,\u201d said Smith. \u201cI think it\u2019s the constant pressure Arizona\u2019s offense puts on you.\u201d

If you are good enough to get to the Women\u2019s College Softball World Series, you need more than the long ball and more than a few well-timed slap hits. You need two pitchers who can shut down Florida and Auburn and Oregon, and that\u2019s what Arizona established more than anything as it outscored its three regional opponents 25-0.

\u201cAt this time of year, you have to have the pitching,\u201d said Candrea.

Senior Danielle O\u2019Toole is to UA pitching what Nancy Evans and Jennie Finch were a generation ago. The uncertain element of Arizona\u2019s bid to return to the World Series for the first time since 2010 is reliable pitching from sophomore lefty Taylor McQuillin.

On Sunday she was superb, doing a reasonably close impersonation of the Taylor McQuillin of Mission Viejo High School, who from 2013-15 was one of the nation\u2019s most coveted recruits, winning 103 games as she became the 2014 Gatorade National Player of the Year.

\u201cI kind of re-created who I was as a pitcher and became myself again,\u201d she said after shutting out the Gamecocks.

Well said.

During Arizona\u2019s softball glory years, it often had the nation\u2019s best 1-2 pitching punch, with Evans joined by Carrie Dolan, followed a few years later by Finch and Becky Lemke.

Now come O\u2019Toole and McQuillin, and it gives Candrea a third of the equation necessary to win a ninth NCAA title, combining pitching with power and resourcefulness.

\u201cI\u2019m ecstatic about the way we created runs,\u201d Candrea said. \u201cI don\u2019t think people expected that out of Arizona.\u201d

Of course, the games get more difficult now. Baylor, which is Arizona\u2019s opponent in the Super Regionals, opened the year losing 4-0 to Arizona in the Hillenbrand Invitational. The Bears are 46-12, winning the Big 12 tournament and the NCAA first-round regional by outscoring its opponents 17-4.

Playing a Baylor team that has won 20 of its last 25 games won\u2019t faze Candrea. He has seen it all. In fact, his regional sweep over South Carolina surely brought back memories to the first-ever NCAA regional held in Tucson, 1988, exactly 29 years ago Sunday.

The opponent? South Carolina.

The Wildcats and Gamecocks met at the UA\u2019s old rec-center-type field, which was approximately where the outfield of Hillenbrand Stadium sits. The winner would go to the World Series in, of all places, Sunnyvale, California.

In the deciding game, UA pitcher Teresa Cherry, the first of Candrea\u2019s many Big Game pitchers, allowed her first home run of the entire season.

South Carolina\u2019s two-time All-American catcher, Karen Sanchelli hit two home runs that day. When she came to bat for the third time, Cherry wisely walked her.

Arizona held on to win 4-3 and play in the first of 21 World Series.

Small world: Sanchelli, later the head coach at Florida and Virginia, was part of Candrea\u2019s coaching staff at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, at which Team USA won the silver medal.

On Sunday, there was no Sanchelli at Hillenbrand Stadium, but the outcome was the same. Arizona advanced.

Seems like old times.

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There is no ZonaZoo at Hillenbrand Stadium. No pep band, no big-head posters of Mike Candrea or Danielle O\u2019Toole, no over-served students who pose for a Kiss Cam and spend seven innings texting buddies at Frog & Firkin.

If you see a UA student at Hillenbrand, he likely got lost on his way to Dirtbags.

A standing-room-only crowd squeezed into Hillenbrand on Friday night as Arizona beat New Mexico State 11-0 in a first-round NCAA Tournament game, and most of those would consider the 61-year-old UA Candrea to be a younger man.

The age demographic at Hillenbrand is its soul; it\u2019s what makes the place so alive, so kinetic, and for the last 24 years, the most feared ballpark for visiting teams in college softball.

If you study the ticket-buying history of the 2,422 who attended Friday\u2019s game, you might find that more than half of them were sitting in the same seats when Jennie Finch pitched her first UA game in 1999.

Their odometers have picked up a few more miles, but the passion remains manifest each time the Wildcats win another big game.

\u201cMany of our fans consider our players their daughters, and part of their family,\u201d Candrea says. \u201cWe had a request this week that sums it up: A longtime season ticket holder just passed away and one of her requests was to have an autographed softball buried with her. We recently sent it to the funeral director.\u201d

Hillenbrand Stadium opened in 1993 as college softball\u2019s first state-of-the-art facility. What\u2019s not to like about it? The property is squeezed into what Candrea refers to as a \u201cquaint little space,\u201d similar to the way Chicago\u2019s Wrigley Field and Boston\u2019s Fenway Park were positioned a century ago.

This isn\u2019t a one-way relationship. The UA has more than done its part to merit such bountiful support: The average Pac-12 home game this season was a quick 1 hour 54 minutes, and the Wildcats have won 91 percent of their games over 24 Hillenbrand seasons.

All of those called \u201cnana\u201d and \u201cpoppa\u201d in the bleachers can be a bit demanding. (Just like younger fans, except not as loud). Candrea uses the word \u201cornery\u201d but it\u2019s a good ornery. It corresponds with high expectations.

The baby boomers and those from the Greatest Generation knew they had a good thing 24 years ago and bought in at a time Arizona was the emerging dynasty of college softball.

\u201cI think we get an older crowd because look who we are coached by,\u201d says UA senior left fielder Mandie Perez. \u201cThe fans want to stick around because they\u2019ve seen the success from the beginning. They can\u2019t seem to step away; they have a tie to it as much as we do.\u201d

Arizona has led the NCAA in attendance nine times, surpassed in recent years by Southern schools fueled by football money and a Candrea-inspired growth of the sport coast to coast. About the only thing that hasn\u2019t changed since 1993 are the faces in the Hillenbrand crowd.

\u201cI\u2019d say we know a large amount of those people,\u201d says Perez. \u201cThey don\u2019t need to heckle or cheer against the other team. They know we can do it with our gloves and our sticks.\u201d

If Candrea has his way \u2014 and why wouldn\u2019t he? \u2014 the school will soon spend $5 million to restore Hillenbrand among the top two or three softball facilities in America. It will build a media center, from which suites down each baseline and a covered patio will be added. New seats and a long-awaited shade structure, shielding fans from afternoon and early-evening sun, are also expected.

The Wildcats even plan to add bathrooms to the dugout areas. Just like a real stadium.

Not that it seems to matter to those who fill the seats. On Friday, the NCAA allowed Arizona to sell 100 standing-room-only tickets. They were gone in 30 minutes. Only 61 general-admission tickets remained unsold for Saturday\u2019s game.

Candrea is fully appreciative of what it took to get to this build-a-better-stadium point. \u201cEvery time I walk on to that field and see this place packed, it\u2019s a special day for me,\u201d he said.

From 2014-16, Arizona played NCAA Super Regionals in Alabama and Louisiana, with robust and raucous crowds of 3,231 at LSU and overflow crowds of 2,693 at Louisiana-Lafayette. Perez, a fifth-year senior, didn\u2019t take long to see the difference between Hillenbrand and places far away.

\u201cThey\u2019re nicer here,\u201d she says. \u201cIt\u2019s more about us, cheering us on.\u201d

When Arizona lost the Super Regional at LSU in 2015, Tiger fans would follow the PA announcer\u2019s identification of each Arizona hitter by chanting \u201cTiger bait!\u201d

\u201cWhen I\u2019d be on deck, they\u2019d be like, \u2018Don\u2019t be scared. Don\u2019t blink. Mandie! Mandie! I\u2019m like, \u2018How do you even know my name?\u2019\u201d

Perez paused to chuckle. \u201cWhere\u2019s my mom?\u201d

At Hillenbrand, Perez and her UA teammates have 2,422 \u201cmoms,\u201d day after day and year after year.

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{"id":"f114a61a-b28c-5a6c-8d05-2e1b38e5556e","type":"article","starttime":"1495065600","starttime_iso8601":"2017-05-17T17:00:00-07:00","lastupdated":"1495137834","priority":43,"sections":[{"greghansen":"sports/greghansen"},{"local":"sports/local"}],"flags":{"editors_pick":"true","top_story":"true"},"application":"editorial","title":"Greg Hansen: Duo believes it can uncover 'bones' of once-grand Rio Rico Golf Club","url":"http://tucson.com/sports/greghansen/article_f114a61a-b28c-5a6c-8d05-2e1b38e5556e.html","permalink":"http://tucson.com/sports/greghansen/greg-hansen-duo-believes-it-can-uncover-bones-of-once/article_f114a61a-b28c-5a6c-8d05-2e1b38e5556e.html","canonical":"http://tucson.com/sports/greghansen/greg-hansen-duo-believes-it-can-uncover-bones-of-once/article_f114a61a-b28c-5a6c-8d05-2e1b38e5556e.html","relatedAssetCounts":{"article":0,"audio":0,"image":1,"link":0,"vmix":0,"youtube":0,"gallery":0},"prologue":"Overgrown course can be revived, they say, with money and 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RIO RICO \u2014

Along the Interstate 19 corridor, 55 miles from Tucson to Rio Rico, there are 10 golf courses: Desert Hills, Canoa Ranch, Canoa Hills, San Ignacio, Quail Creek, the Tubac Golf Resort, Torres Blancas, the Haven, Rio Rico Golf Club and the Country Club of Green Valley.

For 30 or 40 years, the I-19 Golf Trail was as vibrant as any of America\u2019s most-known golf destinations, including Las Vegas and Myrtle Beach, a blissful mix of snowbirds, retirees and spirited Tucsonans who filled the tee sheets from sunrise till sundown.

Something was always popping. Lee Trevino showed up to help design Torres Blancas. Kevin Costner bunked at Tubac while filming \u201cTin Cup.\u201d

The PGA Tour staged its annual Qualifying School tournament in Rio Rico in 2004 and 2005, and I remember turning off Pendleton Drive toward the charmingly-named Calabasas Bar and Grill just as 2002 U.S. Amateur champion Ricky Barnes \u2014 an Arizona Wildcats All-American \u2014 walked to the first tee.

\u201cThis is my Road to the PGA Tour,\u201d he said.

Since then, the Rio Rico Golf Club has been on the Road to Ruin. The transformation is such that it hurts my soul to see what has happened to a once-grand golf course.

When I turned off Pendleton Drive and headed for the Calabasas Bar and Grill on Wednesday, I was shocked.

The front nine is closed.

All of the employees were let go.

The yellow fairways look like untamed farmland.

Five people were playing golf.

This is not the first I-19 golf course flattened by the overbuilt \u2014 and overpriced \u2014 era of American golf. Canoa Hills went dormant and died. San Ignacio came back from a two-year coma and is green again.

If not for long-time Tucson golf instructor Jane Chanik and certified LPGA golf teacher Margaret Wolverton, the Rio Rico Golf Club would be as dead as its fairway grass.

\u201cI know at my core this will be successful one day soon,\u201d says Chanik, an Amphitheater High School grad who has taught golf at San Ignacio, Haven and Torres Blancas. \u201cMy goal is to have 18 holes up and running by fall. If you open it, they will come.\u201d

Chanik\u2019s own \u201cField of Dreams\u201d hymn rests on two things: fundraising and a resolute belief that she can reverse the negative momentum of Southern Arizona golf which, over the last 10 years, found once-hardy golf facilities such as Arizona National, Forty Niner Country Club and Golf Club at Vistoso struggling to keep their doors open.

\u201cWe\u2019ve been doing the irrigating and mowing ourselves,\u201d says Wolverton. \u201cWe\u2019re here seven days a week, 13 to 14 hours a day.\u201d Volunteers from Rio Rico\u2019s Future Farmers of America showed up with a small army of weed-wackers.

Now, it\u2019s an all-volunteer work force.

To make it work, Chanik and Wolverton believe they need 60 players a day paying $22 a round over 300 days a year. But that\u2019s Part II. The first part is raising at least $250,000 to get the suitable machinery (and grounds crew) to put a one-time home of the PGA Q-School back in acceptable condition.

The two women signed a lease-purchase agreement with the out-of-state group that owns the golf operation.

Driving through the gates, I thought this was an impossible mission. But as I toured the 46-year-old course designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., I got lost somewhere between impossible and possible.

The hilly back nine at Rio Rico used to be a piece of golf paradise. No wonder the iconic Jones chose to design a course there. Chanik describes it as a \u201cmesquite bosque.\u201d Last weekend, a local bird-watching group identified 58 species of birds on the 155 acres.

\u201cIt\u2019s like the wild kingdom out here,\u201d Chanik says. \u201cBobcats, lynx, a mountain lion or two.\u201d

Sometime over the last decade, Rio Rico Golf Club was the loser during America\u2019s economic recession that cut deep into the golf industry. The finances and participation numbers plunged dangerously at scores of Southern Arizona golf courses.

Stopping that negative momentum and recreating the beauty and financial solvency in Rio Rico is a challenge that few would accept. For their part, Chanik and Wolverton are hardy souls who don\u2019t seem to know what no means.

\u201cThe needs of the course may seem insurmountable to the naked eye,\u201d Chanik wrote in a series of emails seeking assistance. \u201cI assure you, to bring the course back to 18 holes of health, the number we must match is not that large.\u201d

They must reseed the tees, the fairways, the greens \u2014 everything. They must replace two of those mega-mowers, acquire a new water pump and irrigation conveyance, purchase a spray rig for proper application of feed and pesticides. And that\u2019s just the big stuff.

To do so, Chanik and Wolverton hope to sell up to 25 \u201cmemberships\u201d for $10,000 each. Those \u201cfounding members\u201d would provide seed money to refashion all 18 holes.

It\u2019s a wonderful ambition.

Since it was built in 1971, the Rio Rico Golf Club has played host to almost every important golf event in Arizona: the Southern Arizona Open, the Arizona Stroke Play Championships, the high school state championships, the AGA Championships and on and on.

As Chanik walked into an empty clubhouse Wednesday, she talked about \u201cuncovering the bones\u201d of a once-thriving golf property.

\u201cI\u2019m not sure people understand what a gem this can be,\u201d she said. \u201cSomebody just had to get the ball rolling.\u201d

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