It’s hard not to be in awe just looking around the walls at Hillenbrand Stadium.
There are the giant action photos of the greats of Arizona past, and the list of too-many-to-count conference championships and championship trophy after championship trophy. On the left field wall, you’ll see a list of the Women’s College World Series appearances, year after year, and when you stare long enough, it’s almost like they start coming in threes — 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1995, 1996, 1997 and 2008, 2009, 2010 and then … nothing.
Where did the numbers go?
It’s almost as if they ran out of paint.
Perhaps that’s why these Wildcats are so adamant about painting their future with a new brush. They’ll make a few more brush strokes this weekend, as they travel to Louisiana-Lafayette for a best-of-three set with the Ragin’ Cajuns in an NCAA Super Regional.
“One of our mottos is ‘tradition lives here,’ and the fact we haven’t made our permanent mark yet it is a little bit … haunting,” Arizona’s Hallie Wilson said. “It’s in the back of your mind a little bit.”
At the front of the their minds heading into the weekend: the hot, sticky, humid air of Louisiana, where the only thing that drips more than the accents is the air.
For a lineup that prides itself on power, Arizona knows it’s going to have to adjust to the climate, to try to get on top of the ball, and hit hard grounders.
Though, perhaps, the word “pride” is a misnomer. It’s more that the Wildcats have become resigned to the fact that they have the best offense in the land.
“This team has found their identity and have developed,” coach Mike Candrea said. “There is no doubt they know that offense is the big part of their game.”
But will it hold up in muggy Lafayette, and more dauntingly, will it hold up against Christina Hamilton?
The Ragin’ Cajuns ace is just the latest in a long line of pillars in the pitching circle who’ve deigned to take on Arizona’s power. The Wildcats have taken a balloon pump to opposing pitching stats, and while Hamilton is 27-2 with a 1.53 ERA, those numbers aren’t too foreign.
“We’ve faced a lot of great pitchers this year, and I think it’s about taking a mindset that we need to adjust,” Arizona assistant coach Alicia Hollowell said. Hamilton will “do things to keep us off balance. But we faced a great pitcher last weekend in (LSU’s) Baylee Corbello, and she was a machine too, just kept chugging along. Once we get enough looks at her, this is a pretty potent team and I think we can make the adjustments.”
For the first time this year, though, they may have found an offense that can (almost) stack up against them. ULL (47-8-1) ranks second in the nation behind Arizona (44-14) in home runs per game and is 10th nationally in runs per game.
“I watched a little bit of video on them this morning and they swing the bats,” Candrea said earlier this week. “They’re very aggressive offensively. Trying to hit everything out of the ballpark.”
Sounds familiar, even if Arizona stroked 21 more home runs and outslugged even the second-best team in the country by nearly 100 percentage points.
So it’s clear that Arizona has found the power. But can it find the glory?
“At Arizona, that’s kind of our standard — to get to a World Series and play for a national championship,” Candrea said. “If I didn’t want to get to the World Series, I wouldn’t be coaching.”