Can McQuillin’s pitching take UA softball back to WCWS?

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                </div>  Taylor McQuillin is a junior now.  She’s had two years to grow into the role she was meant to play in leading the University of Arizona softball program back […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Taylor McQuillin is a junior now.  She’s had two years to grow into the role she was meant to play in leading the University of Arizona softball program back to the national title game.

And the former high school national Player of the Year is wasting no time in establishing her position as the ace in the circle for a Wildcat team that is primed to return to the Women’s College World Series (WCWS) after a seven-year absence.

The 5’8″ hard-throwing southpaw has faced 83 batters so far this season and retired 75 of them, leading Arizona to a 12-1 record and No. 13 national ranking.  Her 56 strike-outs have her ranked in the top 10 of the nation’s best pitchers.  And just 13 games into the season, she’s more than a third of the way to last year’s strike-out total of 159.

McQuillin is 8-1 on the season, the only blemish coming in the second game on the schedule when Oklahoma State tagged her for seven hits and five runs in the three innings she worked that game, one of five games the team played to start the season in the Kajikawa Classic, hosted by Arizona State University.

But she quickly made amends in the final game of the Classic when she pitched her first career no-hitter as Arizona run-ruled New Mexico behind McQuillin’s dominating performance, striking out 11 of the 16 batters she faced.  A one-out walk in the fifth inning was the only thing keeping her from posting a perfect game.

There may have been a psychological component that contributed to McQuillin’s being unprepared for that game with Oklahoma State.  She had originally committed, as a freshman in high school, to play for the Cowboys but family circumstances forced her to make the switch to UofA so that she could be closer to her ailing father in California.

Arizona head coach Mike Candrea wasted no time in throwing a recruiting net over the youngster that had become one of the nation’s most dominant pitchers in high school – despite being blind in one eye and partially deaf.  McQuillin is blind in her left eye and has partial hearing loss in her left ear, a result of a medical condition called Duane Syndrome.  She has had to deal with it since birth, but is quick to point out she doesn’t consider it a handicap and has successfully learned to live with it.

Her high school career showed what little effect those limitations had on her game.  She was named the Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year in her junior year after leading Mission Viejo High School (Calif.) to a 25-1 record and a No. 1 national ranking.  Over her final two years in high school, she compiled a 55-2 record – posting a 0.69 ERA her junior year and 0.21 ERA as a senior.

She transitioned well to the college game, but was no longer the dominant force she was in high school.  She finished her freshman year in Tucson with a 12-8 record and 3.17 ERA, and selection to the All-Pac 12 Third Team.  She pushed her record to 16-4 as a sophomore, earned Second Team honors, and began to show the promise fans had hoped to see.

She was a workhorse that season, appearing in 26 games and starting 21 of those, and posting a 1.92 ERA.

Candrea’s 2018 squad is on a mission to get back to Oklahoma City, where the Cats last appeared at the WCWS in 2010, finishing as runner-up.  Last year the team was the No. 5 team in the country and No. 2 overall seed in the post-season, finished the season ranked second in the nation in slugging percentage, third in scoring, and led all D-1 programs in home runs.

But they were stunned by 15th-seeded Baylor in the Tucson Super Regional on Memorial Day weekend, uncharacteristically leaving 30 runners stranded on base through the three-game series.

Last year, McQuillin shared the load with redshirt senior Danielle O’Toole, but this year will be called upon for an even bigger contribution.  Candrea has added some immediate help in the circle with a couple of transfers:  Alyssa Denham is a 6’1″ sophomore who pitched one season for Louisiana Lafayette, where she was the Sunbelt Conference Freshman of the Year.  Gina Snyder pitched for Tucson’s Sahuaro High School, but spent her first two seasons of college ball at Purdue.

That experience to give the pitching staff some added depth will be critical in post-season play.

Candrea also added a freshman to the pitching staff.  Hannah Bowen is an import from Ramona, Calif., who also plays infield and can provide some help at the plate.  She finished her senior year at Romona High School with a 0.94 ERA and .500 batting average.

But back to McQuillin…

Since the time McQuillin switched her commitment to Arizona just before her junior year, there has been talk about her being the next Jenny Finch.  Almost two decades have passed since Finch played for Candrea (Yes, he was running the show back then and marks 33 years this season) and led the Wildcats to a national championship in 2001.  The 6’1″ striking blonde with a model’s good looks became the face of the Arizona program.  She was arguably the most famous women’s college pitcher of all-time, went on to win a couple of Olympic medals, and then went professional for a few more years before retiring.

So here’s a footnote worth thinking about:

Finch took the Wildcats to a national title when she was a junior — just where McQuillin is at now.

Deja vu?  Perhaps.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)