Auburn threatened Arizona’s lead with a leadoff home run in the seventh inning, but the Wildcats retired the next three batters for a 2-1 win at Hillenbrand Stadium on Saturday.
Arizona moved on to the NCAA Tucson Regional championship game, Sunday at 4 p.m. The Wildcats will again play Auburn, after the Tigers beat Colorado State 8-0 late Saturday.
The Wildcats struggled for hits (Arizona only managed four), but coach Mike Candrea thought his team gave a great effort to come out unscathed.
“I thought we swung the bats better than the number showed,” Candrea said. “We squared some balls up right at people, but I think we need to make a little quicker adjustments. We hit a lot of ground balls, which I will take over a lot of pop-ups in the game of softball. Right now, it’s just a matter of getting some rest and know that we’ve got a big day ahead of us tomorrow.”
UA fans had another reason to celebrate on Saturday: Pac-12 batting queen Reyna Carranco returned to the field.
Carranco, who broke her left hand and right thumb two weeks ago during an at-bat against Washington, made her first appearance in the Wildcats’ lineup since the injury. Carranco batted sixth and was Arizona’s designated player.
The audience erupted into a standing ovation as Carranco stepped into the batter’s box for her first at-bat in the second inning.
“I thought it was super cool — I didn’t even know what to do,” Carranco said of the fans’ reactions. “I had never seen that before.”
“And I haven’t either in 34 years,” Candrea added.
Carranco finished the game 2 for 3 with two singles. Carranco said after the game that her return to the infield will be determined on a day-to-day basis, but that she was excited to get back in action.
“It was nice to get Reyna back in the lineup,” Candrea said. “As you can see, she hasn’t missed a beat — made it look kind of easy.”
Still scoreless in the fourth with two runners on base and one out, Candrea looked to his bench and put in Tamara “T” Statman as a pinch hitter.
The 34-year skipper said he was looking at the numbers earlier in the day and noticed Statman is a great hitter against lefty pitchers — and she’s not one to swing at bad pitches.
On a 3-1 count, Statman singled up the middle to score Rylee Pierce and Carranco.
Statman, a senior, said she’s learned there really isn’t a big difference between hitting as the designated player or a pinch hitter.
“Knowing that coach has the trust in me that I can go get it done and my teammates have my back that I can get it done,” Statman said.
“It’s my first at-bat of the game and who said I can’t get a hit?”
Taylor McQuillin got her second consecutive start in the Tucson Regional.
A day after throwing a one-hitter in a win against Harvard, UA’s ace allowed six hits and walked two while striking out five Auburn batters.
McQuillin found herself in a bit of a jam in the third inning when Auburn loaded the bases on a walk and two singles with one out, but the senior induced a strikeout and pop out in the next two at-bats to end the frame.
McQuillin said the ability to handle that pressure situation is one of the ways the team has grown.
“I think that it’s super exciting to see in the postseason because I think earlier on in the year when we’d get in jams like that, everyone would get tense and tight,” McQuillin said. “Now it just feels super calm. Everybody’s calm. Everybody knows that we can work with one another. Anybody can get an out.
“That’s really nice to know when you’re pitching, especially in jams like that. It’s a confidence booster for sure knowing you have a whole team behind your back.”