All season, Arizona has been able to rely on a few things: Katiyana Mauga’s bat, Danielle O’Toole’s arm, the top-to-bottom depth of the lineup and an error-free defense.
The formula was off on Saturday night, and so after a 6-4 loss to Baylor in Game 2 of the Super Regional, the Wildcats will now play a rubber match against the Bears on Sunday at 4 p.m. The winner will advance to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
Arizona, the tournament’s No. 2 overall seed, surrendered four runs in the sixth inning to fall. The Wildcats opened the best-of-three series wtih a win over the Bears Friday night.
“The game got a little quick on us today for some reason, to be honest with you,” UA coach Mike Candrea said. “Sometimes that happens and usually when it happens, that’s when miscues happen. There were some plays that could’ve been made, should’ve been made, that were made. The big thing is when we didn’t make them, … that’s what happens when the game starts to get quick on you. We need to slow things down (Sunday). We need to slow down, and the first team that relaxes wins.”
Saturday, seemingly every element of the Wildcats’ game was off.
Mauga was walked all four times she came to the plate; O’Toole didn’t start but came in relief for Taylor McQuillin in the sixth inning and allowed four runs on three hits. Arizona managed eight hits but left 10 runners on base; miscues by Arizona’s fielders allowed Baylor to score its first two runs.
Now the Wildcats are in danger of blowing a 1-0 Super Regional lead for the second year in a row. Auburn rallied to take the final two games a year ago.
Arizona’s players have no intention of letting that happen again.
“That’s one of our things we have, play one game at a time. We’re only focusing on that one game,” said outfielder Mandie Perez, who led Arizona with three hits and an RBI. “I think we did that today, it just came in their favor. Tomorrow it’s going to happen all over again and we’re going to focus on that day.”
Arizona’s defensive hiccups came in the fourth inning, first when Maddison Kettler hit a single to right center with a runner on first base. Centerfielder Eva Watson threw it to Pac-12 All-Defensive team shortstop Mo Mercado at second, who proceeded to throw it past first baseman Jessie Harper. Kettler advanced to second, and Riley Browder moved to third.
Jessie Scroggins then singled up the middle and Watson committed a fielding error, missing the ball on her initial attempt to grab it. Both Browder and Kettler scored on the play.
Arizona bounced back offensively in the fifth inning, scoring two runs on a Harper two-run single off the right field wall.
“She did a wonderful job,” Candrea said. “That’s Harps. She’s a battler, a fighter, as this whole team is. We needed some quality at-bats, and when you have quality at-bats at the right times, good things happen. Some days you don’t get them and the game gets tougher.”
The Wildcats scored two more runs in the sixth inning with RBI singles from both Perez and Mercado.
To that point, McQuillin had acquitted herself well in the circle, outside of the error-riddled fourth inning and a one-out double in the sixth. McQuillin was lifted for O’Toole after allowing two earned runs on six hits with three strikeouts against one walk.
O’Toole (30-5) wasn’t able to use her change-up effectively.
“Taylor did a good job tonight,” Candrea said. “I thought she gave us a solid performance. There’s a couple loud hits that (sixth) inning and I thought it was time to make a change and show them some off-speed pitches. It came back to bite. I’ll take the blame.”
McQuillin won’t start on Sunday, but the sophomore didn’t seem too worried about the Wildcats chances for a bounce-back win. A win would, of course, would send the Wildcats back to Oklahoma City with an opening game against No. 10-seed Oklahoma.
A loss would end Arizona’s season before the WCWS for the seventh straight season.
“I’ve had confidence in my team all year. I think we’re ready to step up when our name’s called. Tomorrow is calling our name,” McQuillin said. “But I think that we’re going to come out and have a dogfight tomorrow like we have the past two games. …
“I think tomorrow is a brand new day to wake up and play Arizona softball.”