After their last attempt at postseason preparation went awry, Arizona head coach Mike Candrea has a simple message for his Wildcats as they shift into playoff mode.
“It’s a tough road, and we’ve got to get tough,” Candrea said Sunday night.
An hour earlier, he’d learned that Arizona would host a regional in the college softball playoffs, but, as a No. 11-seed, that a super regional hosting bid would be a long shot.
The Wildcats, who went 43-13 and started 28-0 at home before losing two of three to top-ranked Oregon last weekend, await visits from No. 23 LSU, Louisville and Boston University. LSU and Louisville open the weekend on Friday night at 5:30 p.m., and Arizona hosts Patriot League-champion Boston at 8 p.m.
LSU is ranked No. 23 after finishing the regular season at 35-21 and 13-11 in SEC play and Louisville won the AAC softball championship with a 14-7 conference record (36-20 overall).
“We have some formidable opponents,” Candrea said. “We have to clean up our act from last weekend. LSU, Louisville, Boston – the one thing you have to realize is with parity around country, people are here for a reason. We have to take care of our business.”
While Candrea has some film available on LSU and Louisville, the Terriers are more difficult to scout, so the longtime Arizona coach will have to call on some familiar sources.
“I have lots of games of LSU and some of Louisville, but Boston is difficult – they weren’t on TV a lot,” Candrea said. “I have a former coach of mine who played in their conference with them, so we should be good.”
The Terriers went 35-19 this season and 13-5 in conference play behind a balanced pitching staff led by Melanie Russell (12-3, 2.09 ERA).
Arizona will counter with an offense that led the country with 95 home runs, 16 more than second-place Georgia, and in runs scored per game at 7.78.
The Wildcats will begin practicing today and Candrea said the rest of the schedule would be determined during the week, when he considers the weekend game times.
If it looks like Arizona will play during the day on Saturday and Sunday, Candrea wants the Wildcats to practice in heat, as he anticipates 100-degree temperatures over the weekend.
The heat could play to their favor, as if home-field advantage isn’t enough of a boost.
“Looking at the way we played at home this year – other than the last weekend, and we played a very good team and chose a bad time to stumble – I think this team has a lot of confidence at home,” Candrea said. “We’re excited we’re home – it’s exciting for our team and for our fans. We love playing at home, and obviously, had good success there.”
Candrea said after the team’s 14-3 loss to Oregon on Sunday that he hoped the team would be hosting, but Sunday admitted that he expected it.
“I wasn’t sweating it,” Candrea said. “I was on a regional committee, so I kind of knew where we were and I knew we were in the top 16. I was just hoping with a strong push, we would’ve gotten ourselves in the top 8. But you have to take care of business all year. I kept telling our kids, every game matters.”