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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Wildcats softball sweeps Hillenbrand Invitational; Newcomers shine in debut

Arizonas+Alyssa+Palomino+bats+during+the+softball+game+against+Northwestern+on+Feb.+11.+Palomino+is+among+a+group+of+players+participating+in+their+first+season+of+Arizona+softball.
Logan Cook

Arizona’s Alyssa Palomino bats during the softball game against Northwestern on Feb. 11. Palomino is among a group of players participating in their first season of Arizona softball.

Arizona wrapped up the 21st Hillenbrand Invitational on Sunday with a 10-2 (six innings) victory over the Tulsa Golden Hurricanes. The Wildcats won all five games they played this weekend, moving their all-time record in the Hillenbrand Invitational to 107-3. 

Arizona 10, Tulsa 2 (six innings) 

Danielle O’Toole earned her third victory in as many games this season, and Katiyana Mauga added her fourth home run of the weekend in another dominant Wildcats performance. 

The Wildcats’ second consecutive run rule victory started off quick when Mo Mercado belted a three-run home run to center field in the bottom half of the first inning. They added runs in the second and third innings, putting Tulsa on the ropes, but the Hurricanes were able to get to O’Toole for a pair in the fifth, and the Wildcats ended things in the bottom half of the sixth inning. 



Of all the things that went right for the Wildcats this weekend, Arizona head coach Mike Candrea still pointed out that his team needs to learn how to keep their foot on the gas for seven innings.

“I think we got to six runs and then I thought we kind of lost it for a couple of innings,” Candrea said about his offense in the fourth and fifth innings. “But we got it right back. We just need to keep getting better.”

Arizona 8, Fordham 1 

The Wildcats’ season began on Thursday night in a manner almost nobody expected. With senior O’Toole in the circle, it was expected that she would shut down the Fordham Rams en route to an easy season opening victory. 

At least at the start,things were rocky for the Wildcats’ ace.  

The Rams kicked off 2017 inside of Hillenbrand Stadium with three consecutive singles off of O’Toole, taking an early 1-0 lead. Last year, there was no guarantee that the Wildcats’ lineup would have been able to respond. This season, the Wildcats’ lineup is deeper, more balanced and every batter in the order is a threat for opposing pitchers. 

They responded with three runs of their own in the bottom of the first inning and would proceed to win the game 8-1. Senior Katiyana Mauga belted her first home run of the season in the game, and took the weekend to get a head start on her home run chase. 

Mauga hit four home runs throughout the weekend, putting her at 70 for her career. She is only 16 away from tying Stacie Chamber for the UA record (87) and 24 away from catching Oklahoma’s Lauren Chamberlain atop the all-time NCAA record books. 

Arizona 6, Cal State Northridge 0 

The newest Wildcats made a big impact in Arizona’s game against Cal State Northridge on Friday, proving that this year’s Arizona team can create runs from anywhere in the lineup. 

Freshman Jessie Harper came to the plate with two outs and no one on, but smacked a line drive up the middle for a single. Fellow freshman Reyna Carranco drove in the game’s first run with a double off the top of the wall that scored Harper from first base. It was Carranco’s first career hit as a Wildcat. 

Arizona needed the likes of Harper and Carranco to come through because they struggled throughout the afternoon against Northridge’s Taylor Troost. Troost was able to limit the Wildcats offense throughout the afternoon, but in order to shutdown the Wildcats for a complete game, a starting pitcher will likely have to go the distance themselves. 

The addition of the freshman instantly caused differences in the Wildcats’ lineup from last season. Candrea operates his team on the notion that anyone can play at anytime, and that playing time is earned through producing. 

“The bottom line is we are performance-based,” Candrea said. “That’s kind of the way athletics are at this level. By no means is what you saw this weekend going to be the same as it might be at the end of the year. I think that’s the sign of a good team that has some depth.” 

Harper added her first career homerun in the fifth, and Palomino added a two-RBI triple as the Wildcats proved to be too much for the Matadors. 

Taylor McQuillin began 2017 in striking fashion. The sophomore struck out a career-high 17 batters against the Matadors, going the distance in a complete game shutout. 

Arizona 4, Baylor 0

In the weekend’s marquee matchup, Arizona outlasted Baylor in another pitcher’s duel. O’ Toole was back in the circle for the Wildcats, and she continued her fast start in 2017. She tossed a complete game shutout, allowing five hits and striking out seven. 

The game remained scoreless until the fourth inning when Mauga hit her second home run of the season, a solo shot that gave the Wildcats’ a one-run lead. It was all O’Toole would need. The senior avoided any trouble throughout the entire game, and was able to get out of a jam in the sixth inning. 



With two outs and runners on second and third, O’Toole faced Baylor’s Ari Hawkins who was able to hit a sharp ground ball in between third base and shortstop. Mauga was able to snare it out after the first hop and throw it across the diamond for a huge third out, keeping the Bears off the board. 

“That play, I honestly did not see the ball,” Mauga said. “I just stuck my glove out and reacted to the ball. I was really happy because it saved some runs.”

No matter how dominant the Wildcat pitchers are inside the circle, they know how important it is to have a defense behind them. 

“I’m a ground ball pitcher; I don’t strike people out,” O’Toole said. “So I’m going to need the defense and I know they’re always there. Kati flashed the leather and I was like ‘OK, you got it, thank you’.”

The Wildcats added three more in the bottom half of the inning wrapping up their biggest victory of the weekend. 

Arizona 11, Northwestern 3 (five innings) 

The Wildcats duo of O’Toole and McQuillin was able to string together 22 consecutive scoreless innings inside the circle to begin the season, so when Northwestern was able to break the streak and chase McQuillin from the game in the third inning, it was natural to question if the rotation went any deeper than its top two aces. 

Enter Nancy Bowling. 

The senior entered the game with the bases loaded and no one out, but she struck out two in a row before getting a pop out to end the inning. It was yet another display of Arizona’s depth, and they finished the game on freshman Alyssa Palomino’s double that plated two. 

The No. 10-ranked Wildcats surely will not be moving down this week in the national polls, but with most teams in the top-10 taking care of business, its safe to assume they will be at No. 10 next week when they host the Wildcat Invitational. That’s just fine by Candrea. 

“I like the depth, I like the young kids that we’ve got and I think some of our seniors stepped up [this weekend] as well,” Candrea said. “Right now we’re right where we need to be.” 

Arizona begins the Wildcat Invitational on Thursday, Feb. 16 at 5 p.m. MST when they take on the Drake Bulldogs. 


Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter.


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