Taylor McQuillin arrived at Arizona last year with rather substantial expectations, but that’s par for the course for a UA softball recruit.
McQuillin, the former Mission Viejo (California) High School star, was widely considered to be the top national pitching recruit in the 2015 class. She was the national Gatorade Player of the Year in 2014.
At most schools, McQuillin would step right in as the ace. But this is Arizona, where — like in basketball — the softball program practically collects top recruits.
McQuillin spent her first two seasons behind Danielle O’Toole. That won’t be the case next year: Even though the Wildcats are expected to add a pitcher via transfer, McQuillin will be their de facto ace.
“She’s going to have to be one of those go-to people next year,” Candrea said, “as Tooly was for us this year.”
McQuillin went 12-8 with a 3.17 ERA as a true freshman in 2016, and was named to the Pac-12 Conference’s third team. She was named second team all-Pac-12 as sophomore after going 16-4 with a 1.92 ERA.
McQuillin pitched a complete game shutout against South Carolina in the NCAA Regionals. The results were mixed in Super Regionals — McQuillin started Game 2, but allowed two runs on six hits in 5⅓ innings. The UA went on to lose to Baylor, 6-4.
McQuillin entered last Sunday’s elimination game in relief, and gave up a double, walk and three-run homer. Baylor won that game, advancing to the Women’s College World Series.
Arizona will need McQuillin to step up next year, particularly in the postseason. As Candrea has said, teams don’t make it to the Women’s College World Series without pitching.
“Any experience you go through as an athlete, it’s a teaching moment for her,” Candrea said of McQuillin’s postseason struggles. “I know she’ll rebound and hopefully will be a fire for her all year when she’s working … I think she’ll learn a lot from it.”
Arizona will have to replace three other senior starters: leadoff hitter Mandie Perez, an outfielder; shortstop Mo Mercado, Arizona’s best defensive infielder; and third baseman Katiyana Mauga, Arizona’s all-time home-run leader. The trio combined for 199 hits, 41 home runs, 157 RBIs and 155 runs scored in 2017.
Fortunately, the Wildcats are prepared. First-team All-American Jessie Harper returns for her sophomore season, and Alyssa Palomino should be fully recovered from a knee injury. Catcher Dejah Mulipola hit 12 home runs as a freshman and should improve in 2018.
Reyna Carranco and Ashleigh Hughes were the UA’s top two hitters in Pac-12 play. Both will return, and are candidates to hit leadoff next season.
“This team wasn’t just us,” Mauga said of the seniors. “There (are) young girls on this team that’s going to come up and be clutch and take this team to OKC.
“I know we fell short our four years here, but I know they’re going to do it. That’s just trust in the team and it’s just amazing what I’ve done here, really.”
Candrea will add a recruiting class that’s ranked sixth nationally.
Outfielder Jenna Kean, from Los Alamitos, California, highlights the next wave of Wildcats. Candrea lauded Kean for athleticism and speed, calling her “an Arizona prototypical short-gamer.”
Third baseman Hannah Martinez — nicknamed “Peanut” — “is going to be a very dynamic player at this level,” Candrea said.
Infielder Ivy Davis was described by the Orange County Register as “one of the most versatile players in Orange County.” Arizona also is bringing in outfielder Taryn Young, the sister of ex-Wildcat catcher Lauren Young.
The Wildcats will add two freshman pitchers: Ramona, California’s Hannah Bowen and Broomfield, Colorado’s Taylor Gilmore.
“We’ve got a couple young kids coming in, and we’re still working on something,” Candrea said of the pitching staff.
“It’s always a work in progress. Not as bad as Sean Miller, but fairly close to that nowadays.”