(Tucson, AZ) Kim Doss
When Taylor McQuillin threw the last pitch to seal the series win against ASU on Sunday, it looked like the Wildcats had turned the corner. The “young minds” that head coach Mike Candrea often refers to had figured out how to compete against the best until the last out.
Then came Wednesday, when Arizona had to squeak out a win vs New Mexico while committing fielding and base running errors. After the struggle against a team they beat by a score of 8-0 earlier this season, Candrea and his team weren’t so sure anymore.
Returning to conference play Friday night, Arizona once again looked like a team that can compete in the PAC-12–a conference whose teams make up half of the top 10. With an effort that Candrea called a “complete game,” the Wildcats earned a run rule victory over the Oregon State Beavers in the first game of their weekend series.
“I think the game on Wednesday, we just didn’t execute the way we knew how to, weren’t swinging the bats or putting up runs for Alyssa Denham the way we wanted to, and had some few minor errors here and there,” said starting pitcher Taylor McQuillin. “I think today, we came out and cleaned it up a lot, stuck to our plans, kept our minds on straight and let it roll.”
The Wildcats did, indeed, let it roll in all aspects of the game. McQuillin was only forced to throw 59 pitches in five innings of work. While she didn’t rack up the strikeouts she’s known for, she kept the Beavers hitters off balance, giving up only one hit and one walk.
Only three of the sixteen batters McQuillin faced were even able to get a ball out of the infield. Two of those were routine outs, and the third went for a single.
The offense that couldn’t get going on Wednesday found it again on Friday. Six different Wildcats had at least one RBI, and the team scored in every inning except the third. Dejah Mulipola and Aleah Craighton hit their eleventh and seventh home runs, respectively.
The Wildcats also showed the ability to regroup when things didn’t go their way. After scoring in the first and second innings, it looked like Arizona would blow the game open in the third.
Jenna Kean led off the inning with a walk. A perfectly placed slap hit off the bat of Reyna Carranco bounced over the third baseman’s head to put two on with no outs. Alyssa Palomino loaded the bases on an error when her solidly struck grounder went through the legs of the shortstop.
With no outs and the heart of the order coming up, it looked like the Wildcats would tack on some more. A meeting in the circle helped OSU pitcher Mariah Mazon and her infield regroup. A popup and two strikeouts put an end to the threat.
In previous games, such adversity might have gotten into the heads of the young Arizona team. Much like the final game of the ASU series, however, they fought back in the very next inning.
“We obviously had people on base, it just didn’t work out for us in that exact inning, but the game wasn’t over yet,” Harper said. “So, just as long as we could do it the next one, help Taylor out any way we can.”
The team did just that. After a groundout to first base and a 5-4-3 double play, the Wildcat hitters were back on offense to help their pitcher. They wouldn’t be back on defense until they had sent twelve batters to the plate and scored six runs. Five of those runs came with two outs.
After being unable to give McQuillin run support the previous inning, helping their pitcher meant a great deal to Harper.
“I know Taylor was feeling us, and we were feeling her, so I was proud to get that one for Taylor,” Harper said.
McQuillin did her part by slamming the door in the top of the fifth. The Beavers needed at least two runs to keep the game from ending by the run rule. Instead, they went down in order to give Arizona the 9-0 win in five innings.
With the win, the tenth-ranked Wildcats move to 33-13 on the season and 9-10 in the PAC-12. A win in game two on Saturday would get them to .500 in the conference that the voters consider the toughest in the nation. Oregon State stands at 26-20 overall and 7-9 in conference.