Mike Candrea just moved up to second place in the NCAA softball record books with his 1,458th career win and is within a chip shot of moving into first place.
No. 1,458 came last Saturday for the University of Arizona head coach when the Wildcats beat Stanford, 6-1, in the second game of their three-game series, and then he tacked on one more win as the Cats swept the Cardinal by winning the third game Sunday.
But Candrea can’t dwell on the latest accolade in a long career. He has to focus on the next series, against UCLA, which will become the latest installment in one of college softball’s most enduring rivalries.
This won’t be a battle between the nation’s top two teams, but both teams are nationally-ranked and among those with a shot at making it to the Women’s College World Series. Arizona is No. 16 and UCLA sits at No. 14 in the ESPN/USA Softball poll. Regardless, the meeting between these two tradition-rich programs always draws a lot of attention. All three games of the Saturday-through-Monday series will be televised.
There’s a lot on the line in this game, since the Bruins and Wildcats are among four teams jockeying for position behind Pac-12 leader Oregon. And the Ducks are waiting in the wings, ready to take on Arizona the following weekend.
Candrea, who is in his 31st season with the Wildcats and has been named national Coach of the Year four times, has made 21 trips to the WCWS. But the last time was five years ago.
This year’s edition has the pitching last year’s team didn’t have. The 2015 pitching staff combined for a dismal 4.34 ERA, which earned the dubious honor of worst in program history.
But this season’s four-person pitching rotation is humming along at a 2.68 ERA clip, with Danielle O’Toole and Taylor McQuillin carrying most of the load. O’Toole is a junior transfer from San Diego State, where she earned Mountain West Conference Player of the Year honors, but had to sit out last year to satisfy NCAA eligibility rules. McQuillin is a freshman who was the 2014 National Gatorade Player of the Year.
Both are southpaws, which is a valuable asset in the world of college softball. O’Toole owns a 1.97 ERA and 18-6 record, while McQuillin is 11-5 with a 2.85 ERA.
Arizona is 31-12 on the season, but are especially tough at home where they have a 17-4 record of achievement. And they’re on an eight-game winning streak to provide some momentum going into this weekend.
But it has taken more than a solid pitching effort to string together those wins. The Sun Devils spread the hitting around; every player on the roster has at least one hit to her credit. And they also have the long ball in their arsenal, with 50 home runs so far this season.
During this eight-game winning streak, they have outscored their opponents, 57-16.
Three Devils are hitting above .300: Ashleigh Hughes (.357), Katiyana Mauga (.355), and Mandie Perez (.326). Magua is a junior who piled up 46 home runs in her first two years in Tempe, which put her third all-time in the NCAA record books, and leads the team this season with 15.
Wins are going to be even more important for Candrea going forward. Now that he’s passed Fresno State’s legendary coach, Margie Wright, he will begin chasing Michigan’s Carol Hutchins who is now in first place in the NCAA record books – just five wins ahead of Candrea.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)