It’s hard to believe Taylor McQuillin just pitched her last game for the University of Arizona softball team.
And still harder to believe that it took four years for the hard-throwing California native to lead her Wildcats to a berth in the Women’s College World Series.
Both her college career and the program’s quest for a ninth NCAA championship ended Saturday when Alabama used a third-inning double to build a 2-0 lead that held the rest of the way and sent the Tide on to a semifinal game against Oklahoma.
That was the second loss for the No. 6-seeded Wildcats in the double-elimination tournament. On Friday, the UCLA Bruins broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning on a home run by a pinch hitter, and then went on to post a 6-2 victory.
The losses had to be especially disappointing to McQuillin, who finally got her team to Oklahoma City, but fell just short of making it back to the title game.
McQuillin pitched all but 10 outs during the three games, throwing for eight innings in the opener, a 3-1 win over Pac-12 rival Washington; was in the circle for 6 2/3 of the seven innings against UCLA; and was called back into action in the fourth inning of the Alabama game to relieve the starter, Alyssa Denham, after Bama racked up their two runs in the third when Bailey Hemphill smashed a double that scored two RBIs.
Despite having one of the most potent offenses in the nation, the Wildcats couldn’t get the scoring started against the eighth-seeded Tide. They collected just three hits, two by Reyna Carranco and a single from Deja Mulipola, whose eighth-inning home run against Washington won that game for the Cats. Carranca was 2-for-3 at the plate, bring her batting average to .420 for the season.
When Arizona got to Oklahoma City, head coach Mike Candrea handed the ball to his ace and let McQuillin carry the load as far as she could to close out her senior campaign. She proved to be the workhorse she has been all season long. when she compiled a 24-8 record and finished with a 1.52 ERA.
McQuillin was the crown jewel of Arizona’s 2015 recruiting class, one of the most exciting acquisitions since Jennie Finch pitched the Wildcats to a national title almost 20 years ago.
Finch, who was a two-time Olympian and later a professional player, set an NCAA record while at UofA by winning 60 consecutive games that spanned two seasons. Hopes were high that McQuillin might take the same path in college as Finch.
McQuillin was one of the most dominant softball pitchers in the nation during her high school career at Mission Viejo High School and was named the Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year her junior year, when she led Mission Viego to a 25-1 season and a No. 1 national ranking.
She lost just two games during her junior and senior years combined.
Not bad for a teenager who is partially blind 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, something she has dealt with since birth.
But that didn’t deter the colleges from courting her. Oklahoma State initially won the recruiting war for her services, but family circumstances forced her to de-commit from that program and Candrea scooped her up and got a verbal commitment early in her junior year.
She was the Wildcats’ No. 2 pitcher as a freshman, but made 29 appearances in the circle and finished 12-8. That improved to 16-4 the next year, when she was named a finalist for USA Softball Player of the Year. In her junior year she carried the role of pitching ‘ace’, led the nation in shutouts, and finished that season with a 28-12 record that included 287 strikeouts, good enough for 11th place in the nation.
This season she guided the Wildcats to a No. 6 national ranking and a berth in the Women’s College World Series, the first time since 2010 that a UofA team has made the trip to OKC.
But Candrea is going to have to wait a little longer to add a ninth title to the trophy case.
Meanwhile, McQuillin is moving on to the next level. She was the sixth overall pick of the Cleveland Comets in April’s National Pro Fastpitch draft.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)