The No. 9 University of Arizona softball team uses the postseason as its time to really shine.
And the Cats make it look so easy.
The 11th-seeded Wildcats shut out University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) in the Tucson Regional opener at Hillenbrand Stadium, then slammed three home runs on the way to a 12-6 victory over Ole Miss, and capped off the sweep by beating the Rebels a second time by the exact same score of 12-6.
This is Arizona’s 34th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament, the longest active streak in the country.
The first leg of that postseason trip is the regional tournament. Over the years, Arizona has played 83 regional games. They’ve won all but seven of those games.
When you add their appearances in Super Regionals, the Cats are 89-13 overall. They have made it to the Super Regional round in 15 of the 16 years since it was added in 2005. This will be their seventh straight trip to the Super Regionals.
Their opponent in this year’s Super Regional, which is being held in Fayetteville, Ark. , is the University of Arkansas. That gives the host Razorbacks a slight edge, but the Wildcats’ offensive power generally compensates for any psychological disadvantage from being on the road.
Arizona boasts three of the top 12 home-run hitters in the country: Jessie Harper, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, and Dejah Mulipola.
Harper hit her 90th career homer in the regionals to become the fourth player in NCAA history to reach that plateau. Mulipola parked a pair of homers in the regionals to make it 19 on the season for second place in the Pac-12. The only player ahead of her is Arizona State’s Maddi Hackbarth, who has 20. But ASU was eliminated from the playoffs last weekend, so Mulipola has a good chance to take over first place.
Palimino-Cardoza has 68 career home runs, which has her tied for seventh in the nation.
And all three players are deep in experience. Harper and Mulipola are redshirt seniors and Palomino-Cardoza is a fifth-year redshirt.
It has been difficult this season for opponents to try to pitch around these big hitters since Arizona is just one of seven teams in the country who have four players who have hit more than 10 home runs. In addition to Harper and Mulipola, Sharlize Palacios has 17 and Malia Martinez has 11.
There’s more of that experience in the circle, where redshirt senior Mariah Lopez (photo above) has built an astonishing 71-6 career record. That includes three seasons playing at Oklahoma where she began building her .922 career winning percentage that is third-best in NCAA history.
Arizona will take that power at the plate and dominating pitching into the Super Regional this weekend, where they will take on the No. 5 team in the nation to hopefully punch their ticket to the Women’s College World Series. The Razorbacks, the SEC co-champions, have amassed a 43-9 record this season and rolled through the Fayetteville regional, taking down three opponents by a combined 19-3 score to secure just their second regional title in program history.
This three-game series that begins tomorrow afternoon should be a fan’s delight because it will be more than a pitcher’s duel. Arizona ranks No. 6 in the country with 89 home runs. Arkansas is No. 4 with 92.
Let the fireworks begin.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)