The University of Arizona softball team went into the post-season unseeded, but still felt like they were good enough to play their way into the Women’s College World Series.
And for seven innings, it looked like they might be right.
But reality caught up to the Wildcats on Sunday. After Arizona won the opening game of the best-of-three series on Saturday at the Auburn Super Regional, beating the host team 5-3, the No. 4-seeded Tigers came to life and punched their ticket to the WCWS by outscoring the Cats 10-2 over the final two games.
This will be Auburn’s second straight trip to the WCWS. Arizona hasn’t been there since 2010.
With the one win, Arizona actually got closer to making that trip to Oklahoma City than they have in the past two years. The Cats were swept in the Super Regionals in two straight games in 2014 by Louisiana-Lafayette and again in 2015 by LSU.
But it looked like this year would be their turn to advance after beating the Tigers Saturday, using a flurry of six infield hits to take a 5-2 lead into the sixth inning, and then counting on their left-handed hurler, Danielle O’Toole, to put the lid on the win.
O’Toole, who transferred into the Wildcat program from San Diego State and sat out last year to satisfy NCAA eligibility requirements, went the distance, holding a potent Tiger offense to two hits in 23 trips to the plate to notch her eighth straight win and fourth in the post-season. Coming into the series, Auburn was averaging 8.31 runs per game.
Seven Arizona batters contributed hits, with Eva Watson going 2-for-2 and Tamara Statman 2-for-4. Mo Mercado had three RBIs.
But on Sunday the Tigers found an answer to the redshirt junior pitcher. O’Toole started the second game, but lasted just 3 1/3 innings before handing the ball to freshman Taylor McQuillin. She had given up four hits and four runs before departing and was tagged with the loss to close out her record at 26-12.
Auburn collected all of its runs in a wild fourth inning and held the lead to a 4-1 conclusion.
In the finale, the Tigers picked up from where they left off in the second game by scoring two runs in the bottom of the first and finished the game with six runs on five hits for the 6-1 victory.
While it holds little significance in the big scheme of things, this game was also about bragging rights between a couple of old friends.
Arizona head coach Mike Candrea and Auburn’s Clint Myers started their coaching careers on the baseball staff at Casa Grand High School, where Candrea was the first-base coach and Myers was on the other corner at third. Three of their kids played on the team and the families spent considerable time together away from the field.
They had met as opposing coaches 22 times coming into this series, with each claiming 11 victories. Many of those came during the time Myers was the head coach at Arizona State before leaving for Auburn three years ago. He was hard to beat then, as well, collecting two national titles in the eight years he directed the Sun Devil program.
Candrea probably thought he was rid of his old rival. But Myers popped up again – at the worst possible time.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)