It was an extended walk off the Hillenbrand Stadium field for Danielle O’Toole on Sunday.
She wasn’t ready to leave this place, to walk off this field for the last time as Arizona’s pitcher after the Wildcats lost 6-5 to Baylor in the Super Regional.
For the last two years, O’Toole had been exactly what Arizona and coach Mike Candrea needed, an ace pitcher, someone the Wildcats could rely on in every game.
O’Toole was 56-17 in her two years at Arizona, coming to the Wildcats after transferring from San Diego State. Her senior season was the best one — a 30-5 record, a conference-best 1.15 ERA, the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year award on her mantle.
O’Toole endeared herself to Arizona fans, too, with her fun-loving, quirky eccentricities and proclivity for dancing in the dugout.
Sunday, she didn’t want to leave. She couldn’t accept it, that it was over. Not yet.
She knelt in the pitcher’s circle, hand in the dirt, and cried her eyes out.
“I was just saying ‘bye,” O’Toole said.
On her way out, she stopped in the bullpen, sat on a bench, alone for a moment, clapped her hands once, looked out and cried some more.
“I feel (cheated),” O’Toole said, eye black running down her face. “I don’t want to take the jersey off, I’ve spent two years in it.”
Ironically, O’Toole will be pitching in Oklahoma City in a couple weeks.It just won’t be for Arizona. O’Toole will be part of Team USA softball this summer and will compete in the World Cup of Softball from July 4-9 in OKC.
She wanted to be there with Arizona. That can’t ever happen again — O’Toole’s college career is over.
“I didn’t think it was going to be the last time,” she said.
For most of the season, O’Toole was a force in the circle, typically pitching at least twice every weekend. Her signature pitch, the change-up, baffled almost every team Arizona played. Through O’Toole’s first 27 appearances, she only allowed 19 runs, good for an 0.80 ERA.
In three games against Baylor, O’Toole allowed eight runs in 13º innings, for a 4.09 ERA. The Upland, California, native was solid in Friday’s 3-2 walk-off, allowing just two runs in seven innings of work.
After that, though, Baylor gained confidence in facing O’Toole a second and third time through the order. More specifically — the Bears were prepared for that changeup.
“We knew she was going to throw the changeup and when she was going to come in with the fastball, so I think having that first game under our belt against her … that really helped us,” said Baylor’s Shelby McGlaun. “We felt prepared.”
Saturday, O’Toole entered in relief for Taylor McQuillin and proceeded to allow three runs on four hits in less than an inning of work in a 6-4 loss.
This season, O’Toole had never allowed 10 hits in a game. Baylor had 10 hits off her on Sunday, scoring three runsr in the first three innings, but then O’Toole held the Bears without a run in her next three innings of work.
Still, Arizona decided to go to McQuillin, a sophomore, to try and close out the game, with a 5-3 lead in hand in the seventh inning, which proved disastrous.
McQuillin allowed a lead-off double, intentionally walked Shelby Friudenberg and then gave up a three-run homer to McGlaun.
Candrea said he and pitching coach Stacy Iveson felt like O’Toole was struggling with the middle of Baylor’s lineup, that McQuillin did a “pretty decent job” against it on Saturday and thought that “a different look might be good.”
Baylor coach Glenn Moore said he felt confident that Baylor could complete the comeback when Arizona went to McQuillin.
“I think we probably forced that,” Moore said of the change. “But at the same time, I was pretty confident that we were a better fastball-hitting team, so I felt good about our chances there.
“Then she kept working down in the count and working toward our favor. I was very optimistic.”
Candrea knows how the decision looks in hindsight, going away from his ace. But he said he had “tremendous amounts of confidence” in McQuillin.
“Hindsight is pretty easy in this game,” Candrea said. “When you’re doing it at that moment, if it works great, if it doesn’t then you eat it. So it didn’t work.”
On his way out of Hillenbrand, Candrea found O’Toole sitting down and hugged her again.
She was still crying.
O’Toole told him she was sorry.
Candrea wasn’t having any of that.
“You’ve been everything — plus — I ever wanted,” he told her.
- Arizona finished the season with a record of 52-9, the program’s highest win total since 2010, the last time UA made it to Oklahoma City.
- Baylor will face Big 12 rival Oklahoma in the first game of the WCWS.