ASU & UA win softball regionals, still on road to WCWS

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There are 286 Division I softball programs that were attempting to extend their seasons by earning a berth in a regional tournament.

64 of them made it into the postseason.

16 teams are still alive after regional play wrapped up over the weekend.

And two of those teams are from Arizona.

Arizona State and University of Arizona are among five teams from the Pac-12 Conference preparing for this week’s Super Regional play.  Both teams hosted their regional tournaments and ASU will also host its Super Regional next weekend.  However, Arizona will have to travel to play in the Los Angeles Super Regional.

For the Wildcats, it’s business as usual.  They’ve been there 13 times in the last 14 seasons.  The Sun Devils, however, haven’t made it this far since 2013, the year Clint Myers left to take over Auburn’s program.

Arizona is the poster child for consistency in a college program.  Head coach Mike Candrea is wrapping up his 33rd season running the program, has been to the Women’s College World Series (WCWS) 22 times, and brought home eight national championships.

ASU is also a storied program, but is in the process of regaining its stability.  The Sun Devils won a couple of national championships during the eight years that Myers ran the program, but the Devils are on their third head coach since his departure five years ago.  That’s counting the 2016 season season when the program was put into the hands of co-interim head coaches.

Second-year head coach Trisha Ford, who was hired away from Fresno State, has this year’s team (46-11) ranked No. 6 in the nation.

The Sun Devils rolled through three games in the Tempe Regional, beating New Mexico State in the opener and then back-to-back wins over Ole Miss.  Last night’s game went just five innings as the Devils run-ruled the Rebels in a 9-0 victory that punched their ticket to the Super Regionals that begin Friday against South Carolina.  Saturday’s 7-1 win over Ole Miss was the only time the Devils were scored on throughout the series.

In last night’s series clincher, ASU jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first inning and then relied on Giselle Juarez and Breanna Macha to hold the Rebels’ offense in check.  Juarez worked the first three innings, built a 9-0 lead, and then handed it over to Macha for the mop-up duty.

Both are local products, Juarez a sophomore from Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale and Macha a senior from Red Mountain High School in Mesa.

Arizona (42-14) also made quick work of its opponents, shutting out St. Francis (Pa.) and North Dakota State before squeezing past Mississippi State, in last night’s finale.

At first it looked like it was going to take at least one more game to advance past the regionals when the Bulldogs slammed three solo homers off the Arizona starter, Alyssa Denham.  But then Candrea called on his junior ace, Taylor McQuillin, to quell the uprising and she responded by holding the Bulldogs hitless through the final 5 2/3 innings, retiring 13 consecutive batters.

Aleah Craighton, who went 3-for-4 in the game, singled in the fifth inning to bring home Jessie Harper, who had singled to open the inning, to put the Cats up, 4-3.  McQuillin protected that lead and notched her 28th win of the season.

It’s probably fair to say that Arizona has the bigger challenge this weekend.  While ASU hasn’t played No. 11-ranked South Carolina yet this season, the Wildcats have had a taste of what No. 2 UCLA can do.

UCLA swept a three-game series from the Cats in mid-April — in Tucson.

The Arizona vs. UCLA softball rivalry is steeped in tradition, pitting the two winningest programs in NCAA history.  And right now, that long-standing rivalry takes on special meaning since only one of the two teams will continue on the path to Oklahoma City.