OKLAHOMA CITY — The Women’s College World Series has eluded Arizona ever since the Wildcats finished as the national runner-up after losing to UCLA in the 2010 championship series.
That is, until this year.
The UA’s WCWS run ended after Alabama shut out the Wildcats 2-0 in “Survival Saturday’s” nightcap. The Wildcats concluded their 2019 season with a 48-14 mark and are 62-34 all-time at the WCWS.
“I take a look at it a little differently than you do, probably because it’s a journey to get here,” coach Mike Candrea told a room full of reporters after Saturday’s game. “I’m very proud of this team, like I told them. There’s a lot for them to be very proud of. No. 1, getting us back to the College World Series. No. 2, it’s hard to understand the experience here until you’ve been through it.”
Arizona rolled through the Tucson Regional and Super Regional, beating Harvard, Auburn and Ole Miss at Hillenbrand Stadium to punch its ticket to Oklahoma City. The sixth-seeded Wildcats kept the momentum going into the first game of the WCWS, upsetting No. 3 Washington 3-1 in eight innings Thursday.
The Wildcats entered Friday’s UCLA game as the only undefeated team in the postseason, but one bad inning against the second-seeded Bruins pushed Arizona into the losers bracket. With their backs against the wall, the Cats faced No. 8 Alabama — which beat No. 5 Florida in an earlier elimination game — in Saturday’s nightcap that didn’t start until 8:38 p.m. Tucson time due to a three-hour weather delay earlier in the day
The Crimson Tide took advantage of a couple walks from starting pitcher Alyssa Denham to score on a two-run double from Bailey Hemphill and then kept the Arizona bats quiet to move onto the WCWS semis Sunday against top-seeded Oklahoma.
“You have an opponent on the other side trying to do the same thing that you’re doing,” Candrea said. “Unfortunately, we had one bad inning against UCLA. Denham has thrown some big ballgames for us this year, got in a little bit of trouble, was getting squeezed on her best pitch, which is the screwball.
“That’s when I thought I needed to make a change to give them a different look because she wasn’t going to be effective not having that pitch.”
Senior Taylor McQuillin replaced Denham in the fourth inning and allowed only one hit the rest of the way.
Pitching aside, the bats weren’t working for Arizona. All five runs scored in the WCWS came on four home runs.
WCWS opponents started calling the top of Arizona’s lineup — Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, Jessie Harper, Malia Martinez and Dejah Mulipola — Murderers’ Row because of their dominance at the plate. But in Oklahoma City, the four batters combined for just nine hits.
Martinez led the way with four hits in the first two games, but wasn’t able to add a hit against Alabama. Palomino-Cardoza hit two solo homers against UCLA, but nothing else. Mulipola managed one hit apiece against Washington and Alabama, and Harper’s bat was silenced after a solo hit against Washington.
The bottom of the lineup, which had been a key part of Arizona’s success during the season, had just one hit at Oklahoma City among Hanah Bowen, Hannah “Peanut” Martinez and Carli Campbell.
Mulipola thought the team had a better read on Alabama’s ace, freshman Montana Fouts, than the first time they saw her early in the season.
Fouts gave up just three hits Saturday and struck out nine. In February’s 6-1 win over Arizona, she held the UA to an unearned run.
“I don’t think we really had offensive problems,” Mulipola said. “We kind of beat ourselves. Other than that, we had pretty good at-bats. We were seeing her pretty well, we just weren’t getting the results we wanted.”