OKLAHOMA CITY — A contingent of former Arizona Wildcats and fans sat right behind the UA dugout for Friday night’s Women’s College World Series game against UCLA. Alison McCutcheon, Katie Swan Milo, Chrissy Gil Alexander and Lindsay Robinson Cunningham were there, as were Chelsea Suitos, Sam Banister, Chelsie Mesa, Leah O’Brien-Amico, and Erika Barnes.
The stakes were even higher for Toni Mascarenas, a two-time first-team All-American who helped lead Arizona to its 2001 national title. Mascarenas is the aunt of current Wildcat Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, who hit two solo home runs in Friday’s 6-2 loss to the Bruins. Palomino-Cardoza even wears her aunt’s old jersey number, 32.
The Star caught up with Mascarenas before Friday’s game to talk about the season, her niece and the future of Arizona softball. Here’s what she said:
As a former player and as a family member of a player on the current team, what type of emotions went through your head when you saw Arizona was making it back to the Women’s College World Series?
A: “It was great. All alumni (were) rallying — we have group messages and stuff. And, I mean, most of us, just to see coach (Mike Candrea) get emotional about it — that’s pretty much what it’s for. And just to see the excitement and this team is exciting to watch. In previous years, we’ve been watching, hoping, hoping, hoping. But this year right now, it’s almost like watching a team play from the ’90s. It’s exciting.”
That’ what Candrea said yesterday after the game – that it looked like a 1990s game. What resemblance do you see?
A: “I see low-scoring games. I see pitchers’ duels. I see scoring and then scoring right back. And just the excitement. Most of the time, you see 7-1, 8-1, but you’re seeing 2-1, 3-2 ballgames. So, it makes it more fun to watch.”
Did you stick around for all the games yesterday?
A: “I didn’t. I went and we just hung out. My whole family’s here, so we just hung out. We hung out with Alyssa a little bit off the field just to loosen up a little bit.”
How did it feel seeing Alyssa make that catch in the seventh inning when Washington had two runners on base, knowing that was clutch?
A: “It’s exciting. Just seeing her out there makes me happy and proud of her. We’re pretty tough. Making that catch it was like, for me, ‘You better make that catch or I’m probably going to give you a hard time.’ But it’s good to see her out there doing stuff like that.”
To be able to have the UCLA-Arizona rivalry back at the World Series — what does that mean for a former player like yourself?
A: “For the people that have been around and know what this rivalry is, we’re excited. The group chat has been going crazy. Even people from UCLA that I played against 20 years ago have been texting me, saying ‘it’s going to go down tonight.’ So, for people that don’t know, it’s going to be exciting for them to actually learn what that’s all about tonight.”
What do you hope Arizona take away from the World Series experience?
A: “We have a great group of juniors. They’re already leading this year’s class. I think just from being here and the experience, I think next year they’re going to know what that tastes like. So it’s going to be helpful throughout the year.”
Do you think this is the start of a new era for Arizona?
A: “I think so. And I think, recruiting-wise, this helps a lot. I think the new stadium helps a lot. And I think just being at the World Series and seeing them on TV and knowing that we’re back.”