The House that Mike Built is the happiest plot of ground in Tucson. It is Disneyland in spikes. It is a softball stadium with such regal bearing that Hofstra coach Bill Edwards said "it was a privilege to be here."

And that was after his team had lost a tear-jerker of the first order on Sunday, a 12-inning ledge-walk, a classic that would leave a trail of Hofstra tears all the way back to Long Island.

"It was a great game," sniffled Hofstra leadoff batter Kris Root, her voice cracking. "It was better than going out losing 8 to nothing."

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to beat Arizona at Hillenbrand Stadium, in May, in the NCAA playoffs? The Wildcats are 53-5 in that cozy little ballpark in the postseason. Who does that?

The sense of entitlement and the feeling of security has grown so big that UA coach Mike Candrea said he heard people saying "finish it in five" as he walked into Hillenbrand Stadium on Sunday.

Beating Hofstra would be altogether different, drama at every turn, than those mercy-rule playoff games that eliminated Florida State in 1995, Maryland in 1999 and LSU in 2006 and almost everybody else who has shown up.

"It bothers me that people take it for granted," Candrea said after the Wildcats won 10-6 in one of the most compelling of the 560 games (515 of them victories) played there. "They don't understand that the game is not that easy any more."

Candrea said he awoke Sunday morning "sicker than a dog." College softball in the 21st century will do that to a coach. Maybe the fans don't yet understand, but the skill level in the game has grown so much since Hillenbrand opened in 1993 - since UA seemed to "finish it in five" against everybody except UCLA - that beating Hofstra requires every ounce of your being.

Look, Hofstra is 766-363-3 under Edwards and has reached the regional finals in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2010. Based on the talent I saw on the field Sunday, Arizona and Hofstra would probably need seven games to decide a best-of-seven series, here, there or anywhere.

You can no longer send out Jennie Finch and expect her to strike out the side, hit two home runs and go home after five innings.

"I'm just glad we survived," Candrea said.

What made Sunday's game so suspenseful was that Hofstra seemed to be in control of both Game 1, leading twice in extra innings until Lini Koria's grand slam settled it in the 12th, and of Game 2. Does that make any sense?

The most delicate question that Candrea has never had to answer is: Who would've pitched Game 2?

After throwing 204 pitches in the opener, freshman Kenzie Fowler was obviously in pain, running on empty, getting by on nothing more than toughness and desperation. I mean, come on, she allowed 20 base runners. She usually allows five or six.

"The longer it went, the better we were feeling," said Edwards, the Hofstra coach. No opposing coach has ever used those words at Hillenbrand. Not in the playoffs.

There was so much at stake that it became nerve-racking. Since 1988, Candrea has never failed to advance to the Women's College World Series. On Sunday, he was as close as he has ever been, and Game 2 hadn't even been made necessary.

"I didn't want that to happen," said Candrea, who coached the U.S. Olympic team in 2004, when UA missed the World Series under assistant Larry Ray.

Arizona usually wins these games because it has the best players, and this Wildcat team isn't much different from their predecessors. The big difference is age; shortstop K'Lee Arredondo is the only senior starter and Fowler is essentially being asked to pitch every inning.

That isn't unusual at Arizona. Arizona typically becomes a one-pitcher team in May and June. But Fowler's health has been compromised and who knows how many innings she has left? Seven? More? Less?

"Kenzie's hurting a little bit right now," said Arredondo. "But in her head she knows she can pitch a lot of innings for us down the road."

Candrea's description: "she can beat people when she's not at her best. … It tells me a lot about the kid."

The BYU team that is to visit Arizona for the super regional appears, on paper, better than Hofstra. The Cougars beat Pac-10 NCAA teams Oregon and Stanford this season. They lost to Fowler and Arizona 8-0 on a neutral field in February, but that's when Fowler was healthy.

Now, for one of the few times in more than 20 years, the Wildcats appear vulnerable. Rather than the customary finish-it-in-five mentality, there is potential for some great theater.

There shouldn't be an empty seat in the happy little ballpark.

Contact columnist Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4362.