Saturday was quite a day for the Arizona softball team.
Pitcher Michelle Floyd served up a perfect game and teammate Nancy Bowling followed with 4ª innings of perfect ball en route to a 2-hit shutout at the CSUN/LMU Tournament in Los Angeles
The Wildcats celebrated by going out to dinner. It was a special day, yes, but Arizona’s standards are high.
After all this team is “expected to play great” said freshman catcher Dejah Mulipola. Plus, the Wildcats were in the middle of a long road trip — five days, four doubleheaders, and three hotels. The team returned home for one day this week, enough time to do laundry, fit in a practice and get back on the road for their first Pac-12 series at Oregon State starting tonight.
Arizona is 26-1, its best 27-game start since starting the season 27-0 in 2004. The Wildcats are ranked No. 5 in the nation.
Floyd’s run-rule-shortened gem — the Wildcats beat Hartford 18-0 in five innings — was the Wildcats’ first perfect game since Kenzie Fowler’s 2010 win against Oregon State, and just the ninth in UA history. Floyd struck out six and retired all 15 batters she faced while making her first start of the season.
“It all starts in warm-ups,” said Mulipola.
“It’s that pitcher-catcher bond and you can feel when your pitcher is feeling good. For Michelle, every pitch in was on point. They hit my glove and I didn’t have to move. I knew it was going to be a great game. Michelle pitched lights out and the whole team came together. In the game, we didn’t know it was being thrown, there was so much adrenaline.
“It honestly felt like just another day with these pitchers. It was natural, there wasn’t anything different. Often times you call a time out or the pitching coach does and sometimes your pitcher needs to take a break, a deep breathe. Michelle felt fine; she was in her groove all game.”
Floyd, a senior, hasn’t given up an earned run in 12 innings this season. On Saturday, three pitches — the backdoor curve, the curve, and the drop ball — were on point.
Bowling, also a senior, used a rise ball on the way to the UA’s 8-0, six-inning victory over Cal State Bakersfield later in the day. She struck out four batters and gave up two late-game singles.
“It was super-exciting to watch Michelle,” said Bowling, who is 5-0 with a 2.00 ERA.
“Following that was just taking a little time to celebrate and then moving on and getting ready for the next game. It was amazing to watch a perfect game; it doesn’t happen too often.
“I didn’t know how well I was pitching at the time. I just go out and throw and come back in and cheer the team on. I felt good and it’s wonderful knowing that if a ball gets hit I have a defense behind me.”
In 28 innings of work this season she has only given up 18 hits and 8 runs.
Bowling also has a reliable battery mate in Mulipola, who helps her and the three other pitchers — Floyd, Danielle O’Toole, and Taylor McQuillin — both in game and in the bullpen.
The role is not an easy one. Besides crouching all game, Mulipola is tasked with relaying the calls from the pitching coach, Stacy Iveson, and knowing everything that is going on in the game.
Arizona coach Mike Candrea says a catcher brings stability to the team, from reacting to what is coming at to being one step ahead.
She also has to know each pitcher’s personalities—when to speed things up or slow things down.
“She is a rock and brings 100 percent all the time,” said Bowling of Mulipola, a freshman who has started all 27 games.
“She’s so calm and knows each one of us. She knows what we need and when to lighten the mood.”
The other thing a catcher needs to stay aware of is runners on base. Mulipola hasn’t had to worry about them too much this season; the Wildcats are allowing an average of just 5.29 baserunners per game.
Arizona allowed just five total runs in eight games last weekend; the team hasn’t surrendered more than three runs in a game all season. The UA starts Pac-12 play with 0.83 team ERA, the second-best mark in the nation.
What’s the Wildcats’ secret?
“It’s our relationship in the bullpen,” Bowling said. “We are rooting for each other, teaching each other, and learning from each other. As a staff we are trying to take it as a process day-by-day. We trust that no matter who gets out there they will kick butt and do their best. And if something happens, someone else will go out there and do their best.
“It’s our mentality and approach. We don’t get wrapped up in who we played yesterday. It’s attacking each day like it’s our last. It’s the team chemistry, culture, the coaching staff, everyone buying in to being great.”