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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Pitching boosts Arizona softball through first weekend of play

Arizona+third+baseman+Lauren+Young+%289%29+swings+for+the+ball+on+Feb+12+during+the+Hillenbrand+Invitational+in+Tucson%2C+AZ.+Arizona+defeated+North+Texas+9-1.
Courtney Talak
Arizona third baseman Lauren Young (9) swings for the ball on Feb 12 during the Hillenbrand Invitational in Tucson, AZ. Arizona defeated North Texas 9-1.

This season holds a lot of promise for an Arizona softball program that’s looking to get back to the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2010 — the longest drought in the Mike Candrea era.

Last year, the team was built around its high octane offense that hit 104 home runs throughout the course of the season. Pitching has always been the key to success historically for the program and head coach Candrea revamped his rotation this offseason.

Candrea added Taylor McQuillin, a highly sought-after lefty from Mission Viejo, California, and redshirt junior Daniel O’Toole gets to start her UA career after playing at San Diego State University for two years.

Nancy Bowling comes back from injury as well, but after the first weekend it is clear Candrea likes the 1-2 of O’Toole and McQuillin.

The duo combined for 5 of the 6 starts over the weekend and O’Toole appeared in relief as well. Having two lefties with different styles at the top of the rotation is both rare and impressive and will help neutralize some of the faster style of play from left-handed batters around the country.

O’Toole is a fireballer with a smooth motion and an explosive fastball. McQuillin is a “spinner” and likes to work her rise and drop balls, as well as working across the plate. Both looked sharp this weekend, but face much tougher competition this coming weekend in some important matchups against LSU, UCF and Texas A&M.

For an offense that lost multiple All-Americans from last year, it showed no signs of slowing down this weekend. Collecting 14 home runs in its first six games, the Wildcats offense looks underrated to start the season.

The team lost two All-Americans from last year, but returns third team All-American Katiyana Mauga who hit 3 home runs this weekend and racked up 13 RBI’s. Mauga is simply one of the best players in the country and the Wildcats need her to maintain that all season long.

The top of the lineup includes two left-handed batters who represent the spark plugs for the offense. Mandie Perez fills the role of leadoff hitter after the departure of Hallie Wilson, and batting behind her in the two-hole is slap hitter Eva Watson.

Perez can hit for both power and average and already has a home run. Watson hit a tape measure home run — the first of her career — over the batter’s eye this weekend and leads the Pac-12 Conference already with 10 runs scored. She is a straight slapper with speed who will bother opposing teams when she is on the base paths.

Mo Mercado has the job of protecting Mauga this season, and could be vital to the success of the offense. Mercado started 12-19 this weekend with seven extra base hits including four long balls. Mercado needs to remain a threat to make sure Katiyana Mauga sees strikes.

The bottom of the lineup is where the questions lie for the team.

After Alexis Dotson, another effective slapper, the Wildcats offense drops off.

Nancy Bowling mostly played as a pitcher before her injury last year, and other players like Lauren Young and Robyn Porterwill have to step up in their new roles as well. Bowling, Young and Porter did all homer this weekend, but when the competition gets tougher it will be important for these spots in the lineup to remain a threat to opposing pitchers.

Overall, the Wildcats had a fast start to their season.

The next two weeks provide opportunities to match up against the top teams in the country. These games will be a good measuring stick in determining if this is the team that makes it back to the World Series. 


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