A day after gaining its first series win against UCLA since 2011, the Arizona softball team on Sunday secured a No. 6 national seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats will host Auburn (37-19), Colorado State (38-10) and Harvard (25-17) in the three-day Tucson Regional starting Friday. Auburn and Colorado State will get the regional started at 6 p.m., and Arizona and Harvard will meet at 8:30 p.m. at Hillenbrand Stadium.
The double-elimination event will continue through Sunday, with the winner advancing to the Super Regional.
This is the 33rd consecutive season Arizona has made a postseason appearance — the longest active streak in the country. It will be the 24th time the UA starts the postseason quest at home.
With a top-eight seed, the Wildcats will host a Super Regional if they survive this week. If there are no upsets in that part of the bracket, No. 11 Mississippi would come to Tucson the week after, with the winner of that best-of-three series advancing to the eight-team Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
“I thought we would be somewhere around five or six,” coach Mike Candrea said. “I think this team has done the body of work and had a good strong finish at UCLA. We’re excited to be here at Hillenbrand and I think this team is very, very ready to get into postseason and start playing the game.”
Arizona is one of five Pac-12 teams that will continue the road to the WCWS and one of three in the top eight. The Bruins took the No. 2 seed, while Washington was third.
Stanford and Arizona State were also able to get into the action and will play at the Tuscaloosa Regional and Gainesville Regional, respectively.
After being swept by Washington at home a week ago, Candrea thought he’d bring in reinforcements to help the Wildcats reset before playing their last regular-season series at UCLA.
The 34-year skipper had three Arizona greats — Leah O’Brien, Jennie Finch and Lovie Jung — write a letter to the team on what goes through their heads in pressure situations.
“It really resonated with us because we had just come off of struggles and a tough weekend against a tough team,” ace Taylor McQuillin said.
“For us, it was just knowing that we can’t get too filled in our head when those situations come, but really taking it pitch by pitch, out by out — chipping away at the little things to get the bigger successes.”
Although Arizona (42-12, 19-5 Pac-12) would have still been in good position for a top-eight seed even if it had been swept by UCLA, Candrea knew the series against the Bruins had more meaning than that — it was about getting the right mindset back at a crucial time going into the postseason.
“You don’t want to finish the season going 0-6,” Candrea said. “That would have been tough on us.”
While at UCLA, Candrea saw a different look from his team — one that can possible get back to the WCWS for the first time since 2010.
“You can’t go in playing the name game — that’s kind of where you get bit in the butt,” junior Jessie Harper said.
“Just coming and taking it game by game, playing our Arizona game. So, right now we’re just focusing on Harvard head-on, and that’s pretty much what we’re going to do.”
- Because Arizona stole two games from UCLA, the Bruins were co-conference champions alongside Washington. The UA finished in third place, a game behind.
- Junior Reyna Carranco, who remains out with a broken left hand and broken right thumb, won the Pac-12 batting title with a .433 average during the regular season. She was hit by a pitch and injured on May 4.
- No. 1-seeded Harvard beat No. 2 seed Columbia in the Ivy League Playoff Series to clinch its NCAA bid. The Crimson has won five straight games coming into the regional. Harvard was 16-5 in Ivy League play.
- Auburn was ranked No. 24 in the country in last week’s poll, while Colorado State had the 27th-most votes.
- Auburn was 10-14 in the tough SEC, while Colorado State finished 18-6 and in first place in the Mountain West.