Editor’s note: The Star’s Zack Rosenblatt is counting down the 50 best athletes on the University of Arizona campus right now, with help from athletes, coaches and those close to the program.
No. 16: Taylor McQuillin
The details: McQuillin is a 5-foot-8 lefty pitcher entering her junior season with Arizona softball. Even in the storied history — both in performance and recruiting — of the UA softball program under coach Mike Candrea, the Wildcats have had very few players come to Arizona more highly regarded then McQuillin was when she joined as part of the team’s 2016 recruiting class. McQuillin initially committed to play at Oklahoma State as a freshman in high school but flipped to the Wildcats as a junior. She came to Arizona after a stellar career at Mission Viejo — playing with UA outfielder Alyssa Palomino — where she won the Gatorade National Player of the Year award in 2014, won back-to-back national titles and was named an All-American as a senior by six publications. She won 103 games in her prep career and struck out 690 batters her last two years.
“Taylor is an outstanding pitcher that will make an immediate impact for the Wildcats,” Candrea said when she signed. “I feel we have one of the very best pitchers, if not the best in this class. Taylor is proven and has a chance of being a dominate force in the circle.”
The numbers: At some schools, McQuillin would’ve become the staff ace right away, but she didn’t have to with Danielle O’Toole around. As a freshman, McQuillin started 20 games and finished with a 12-8 record, 3.17 ERA and 137 strikeouts in 128 innings pitched. She improved across the board in a greater role as a sophomore, going 16-4 with a 1.92 ERA and 159 strikeouts in 120.1 innings. She also allowed 17 less extra base hits, from 38 as a freshman to 21 her sophomore year.
“I think the mentality I have now is completely different than the mentality I had coming into my freshman year,” McQuillin told the Star this week. “I was excited and ready to play but you don’t know the stage you’re on until you get here. It’s nerve wracking.”
The value: McQuillin might be the most important player on Arizona’s roster next season. Barring a game-changing transfer pitcher coming in, McQuillin will be the lone returning Wildcat with any college pitching experience.
With O’Toole gone, McQuillin will be looked upon to emerge as Arizona’s staff ace, capable of pitching multiple days in row, of shutting down the talented teams in the Pac-12 and doing that up to, and including, the postseason. She has certainly flashed the capability of doing do, being amongst the conference leaders in ERA last season.
“She’s going to have to be one of those go-to people next year as Tooly was for us this year,” Candrea said.
Why McQuillin? McQuillin showed marked improvement from her first year to her second year, and the fact that McQuillin — who employs a diverse pitching arsenal, including a change-up, rise ball, fastball, screwball, curve, drop and drop curve — experienced high-pressure postseason situations in the Super Regionals against Baylor should go a long way toward helping her make the jump from complimentary piece to a team star and leader. McQuillin pitched 15⅓ postseason innings, allowing five earned runs while striking out 16 batters and walking three.
“I did as much as I could to help, but I think it was a great experience for me so I know what it’s like to go in and pitch in those pressurized situations,” McQuillin said. “Postseason is a whole different game. It’s anyone’s ball game to come up and win so you don’t know the postseason feels until you experience them.”
Proof she’s good: Through Arizona’s first 41 games, McQuillin held a Pac-12-best 0.65 ERA. Even though she cooled down the rest of the season, her ERA still finished under two runs and she pitched admirably in a start against South Carolina in the postseason, pitching a complete game shutout against the Gamecocks while striking out six batters.
What McQuillin can accomplish: McQuillin was an All-Pac-12 second team selection last season, and has a chance to make a leap up to the first team. Depending on how much of a leap McQuillin makes in her third season, she could contend for the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year award, but that will be difficult in a conference filled with young pitching talent — of the nine pitchers selected to the All-Conference teams, only O’Toole was a senior.
Coachspeak: “Any experience you go through as an athlete, it’s a teaching moment for her. I know she’ll rebound and hopefully will be a fire for her all year when she’s working … I think she’ll learn a lot from it.” — Candrea
She said it: “It’s great (experience), even just this year being able to work my way through situations in conference play was huge for me because I feel like if I can compete with people in one of the top conferences in the country, then postseason I know that I’ll be able to step up and do it.” — McQuillin