The state of Arizona will be represented at this year’s Women’s College World Series.
Just not in the way University of Arizona softball fans had hoped.
The No. 14-ranked Wildcats had little trouble getting past the Tucson Regional, played at their own Hillenbrand Stadium. They shut out St. Francis, 1-0; rolled over North Dakota State, 6-0; and then squeezed past Mississippi State, 4-3, for a three-game regional sweep.
Arizona’s ace pitcher, junior Taylor McQuillin, won the first two games and then pitched 5 2/3 innings of relief in the finale.
But trying to get past No. 2 UCLA in the Super Regional, played in Los Angeles, was another story. The Bruins, who had beaten UA three times in the regular season, had an answer to dealing with McQuillin, who had thrown 19.2 scoreless innings through the regional.
UCLA tagged McQuillin for 10 hits over five innings — four of which were home runs — to post a 7-1 win in the opener.
Arizona recovered for Saturday’s second game, using a two-run home run by Alyssa Palomino to jump out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. But the Bruins came back with a run in each of the next three innings to wrap up a 3-2 victory and a ticket to the WCWS.
McQuillin closed out her season with a 28-12 record and the team finished 43-16 overall, with a 13-11 Pac-12 record for fifth place.
Arizona State University, too, encountered little resistance in its regional, played at ASU’s Farrington Stadium. But for the Sun Devils, that momentum carried them right through to the Super Regionals, which No. 6 ASU also hosted – and won handily.
In the regional games, the Sun Devils blanked New Mexico State, 2-0, in the opener (their 19th shutout of the season) and then knocked off Ole Miss twice with a combined score of 16-1. NMSU got just two hits off ASU starter, left-hander Giselle Juarez.
Juarez’s pitching mate, senior Breanna Macha, took over in the first game against Ole Miss, striking out eight to earn the 2-0 win, her 15th of the season. Macha combined with Juarez in the series finale, run-ruling the Rebels in a convincing 9-0 victory in five innings.
Denae Chatman, a freshman from Millennium High School in Goodyear, hit a home run with two runners on base in the first inning to begin the offensive attack, and the Devils would go on to pile up 10 hits in the game. ASU outhit its opponents during those three games, 22-7.
In the Super Regional, ASU used identical 5-2 victories over 11th-ranked South Carolina to punch its ticket to Oklahoma City where the Sun Devil program will make its 12th appearance in the WCWS, and the first since 2013.
Juarez used the regionals to get warmed up. By the time the first game against the Gamecocks rolled around, she was on fire. The sophomore from Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale was working on a no-hitter going into the top of the seventh inning before a single spoiled the effort. She finished with eight strikeouts and allowed just two hits against the team that was leading the nation in home runs.
At the plate, the Devils were also hot, piling up 11 hits and led by junior center fielder Morgan Howe who finished 3-for-3 with a couple of RBIs.
In the second game on Saturday, Macha worked the circle, striking out six on the way to her 16th win of the season. The senior graduated from Red Mountain High School in Mesa, which gives the Sun Devils an all-Arizona 1-2 pitching punch.
The Devils drew first blood again, going up 1-0 after three consecutive hits from Jade Gortarez, Rylee Maston (double), and Skylar McCarty. However, this time the Gamecocks fought back and tied things up in the bottom of the fourth.
ASU answered with four runs in the fifth to give them a lead that would hold the rest of the way. Chatman’s double to left center that scored three runs was the dagger that put the Gamecocks away.
The last time an ASU team went undefeated through the Super Regionals was 2013.
But now the path to another national title gets much more difficult, beginning Thursday when the Sun Devils will take on Oregon, the top-seeded team in the tournament, in the first round.
Not a good sign: The two Pac-12 teams met for a three-game series in Tempe during the regular season. The Ducks won two of those.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)