Arizona Wildcats

Wildcats’ Comeback vs UCLA Falls Short

(Tucson, AZ) Kim Doss

Friday the 13th was an eventful day for the 12th-ranked Arizona softball team, as a back-and-forth night featuring errors, hit batters, misplays and close calls ended with a 7-6 loss to the #4 UCLA Bruins.

“One of these days we’re going to turn this thing around and finish the job the way we’re supposed to,” Coach Mike Candrea said. The Wildcats tried to make Friday that day but came up just short in their 7th-inning comeback attempt.

A weekend of festivities that includes the highly anticipated softball series with UCLA, Spring Fling and the Arizona Football spring game got off to an exciting start when new head football coach Kevin Sumlin threw out the first pitch. From then on, it was a fight.

Both pitchers opened with easy first innings only to run into some issues in the second. Arizona junior left-hander Taylor McQuillin sat the potent UCLA offense down in order in the opening frame, closing the top of the inning with the first of her eight strike-outs. She was almost matched by UCLA senior Selina Ta’amilo, who was able to sit down three straight after giving up an opening single to center-fielder Ashleigh Hughes.

The second inning didn’t unfold as smoothly for either pitcher. To open the inning, McQuillin faced UCLA’s sophomore pitcher Rachel Garcia, who started the game as the Bruins’ designated player. Garcia deposited a 2-2 pitch over the left-center field fence to give UCLA a 1-0 lead. Fortunately for McQuillin, she was able to retire the next three batters and limit the damage.

The Arizona offense inflicted even more damage on Ta’amilo, both figuratively and literally. The inning opened with a confusing at-bat by Arizona left-fielder Malia Martinez. Martinez appeared to hit into groundout on a 2-2 count. However, an illegal pitch was called on Ta’amilo, sending Martinez back to the plate with a full count. She was promptly walked to get Arizona’s leadoff hitter on for the second straight inning.

Martinez was followed by catcher Dejah Mulipola, who sent a hard-hit comebacker at Ta’amilo. While the ball landed near the UCLA pitcher after striking her, the underhanded throw to first base was errant. Not only did Mulipola reach on the error, but both runners were able to take an extra base when the ball left the field of play.

The injury to Ta’amilo led to the first of the day’s four extended mound visits by the ULCA coaching staff. After determining that Ta’amilo couldn’t continue, UCLA coaches moved Garcia from designated player to the pitching circle.

The difficulties for UCLA didn’t stop with the injury to their starting pitcher. Aleah Craighton battled through six pitches before hitting a sacrifice fly to score Martinez and even the game. With Mulipola advancing to third on the sacrifice, Arizona was only 60 feet from taking the lead.

After striking out Hillary Edior for the second out and getting ahead of Carli Campbell 0-2, it looked like Garcia might get out of the inning without giving up that lead. Then, her third pitch whizzed over Campbell’s head and bounced off the backstop. Garcia was not able to get it back to catcher Paige Halstead quickly enough, and Mulipola slid into home to give the Wildcats a 2-1 lead. On the next pitch, Garcia induced a groundball to second from Campbell, but Arizona had taken advantage of the opportunities to move ahead.

Despite getting three hits over the next two innings—including a leadoff triple by Mulipola that barely stayed in the park—Arizona failed to come up with the RBI. Neither team could get anything going offensively until the fifth inning rolled around.

End of the first

Arizona leaves the field after Taylor McQuillin strikes out Aaliyah Jordan to end the first inning. The first of eight strike-outs for McQuillin.

McQuillin started the fifth inning off well, getting the Bruins’ Bubba Nickles to fly out to left field on the first pitch of the inning. The next batter proved more problematic when McQuillin fell behind designated player Madeline Jelenicki. Jelenicki smacked the 2-0 pitch over the left field wall to even the score at two apiece.

Arizona fought back in the bottom of the fifth. That fight was particularly evident in Reyna Carranco.

Carranco suffered several broken bones in her face when she was hit by a pitch in the Washington series two weeks ago. Although she was forced to undergo surgery to repair the damage, she was back in the batter’s box last weekend in Eugene.

The second hurdle Carranco faced in her comeback from that HBP in Seattle was what would happen if she got hit again. Arizona fans found out that their second baseman has what it takes when she cleared that hurdle.

After throwing a wild pitch and going to full counts on several batters earlier in the game, Garcia finally made contact with a batter in the fifth. It just happened to be Carranco, who was struck in the right arm. She took her base while shaking it off, then promptly stole second to put a runner in scoring position with one out.

A strike-out of Palomino left Arizona in danger of wasting another runner in scoring position. With two outs, Jessie Harper made sure that didn’t happen. A sharp double brought Carranco around from second to score and put Harper in her place. Malia Martinez followed that with an RBI double of her own to put the Wildcats up 4-2. The Wildcats weren’t able to score any more, but the eventful fifth inning came to a close with the momentum on Arizona’s side.

UCLA promptly seized that momentum as McQuillin seemed to wear down in the later innings and the hard-hit balls came fast off the Bruins’ bats.
When asked about the number of pitches she threw and whether it affected her late in the game, McQuillin referenced the LSU-Ole Miss 19-inning marathon game last weekend.

“I’ll throw as many pitches as I need to throw to keep our team in the game or to keep fighting for our team. If that means 500 pitches a day, then that’s what I’m going to do,” she said. “You see games like last weekend in the SEC where each pitcher threw 400-and-something pitches in a 19-inning game. You see kind of the grit that those pitchers have and all pitchers, regardless of conference, all pitchers in the NCAA have that in them.”
McQuillin showed the grit, but she and her defense were unable to keep the Bruins off the bases.

The sixth started with what should have been a routine pop fly off the bat of Kylee Perez. Miscommunication between Carranco, Harper and Hughes allowed it to drop behind second base, giving Perez a single to lead off the inning. Two batters later, Garcia hit her second home run of the game to bring Perez home and tie the game.

McQuillin gave up two walks after Garcia evened it up, but was able to get out of the inning without giving up the lead. She was not able to perform the same magic in the seventh when UCLA sent nine to the plate.

After opening the inning with the last of her eight strike-outs, McQuillin gave up four singles, a double and two walks, including an intentional walk of Garcia to load the bases. The parade of base runners led to a three-run inning for UCLA.

The Arizona offense was not ready to give up so easily. They gave it their all to mount a comeback in the bottom of the seventh.

The hit by pitch in the fifth did not appear to phase Carranco as she stepped into the box against Ta’amilo. The Bruins pitcher, who had re-entered the game in the sixth inning, gave up a hard line drive double to left on a 1-2 count to lead off the inning.

Alyssa Palomino followed, and anxiously swung at the first offering.

“That first pitch, I’ll admit that I was riled up,” she said. “Coach took me aside and just said, y’know, ‘Breathe’.”

Palomino did just that, and smacked the second pitch over the fence for a two-run homer. Arizona was only one run behind, but Ta’amilo was able to sit down the next three batters and end the threat to give UCLA the first game of the series.

Arizona hopes to even things up Saturday at 7 pm. Come to Hillenbrand to see the Wildcats take on the Bruins. Due to the Spring Football Game and Spring Fling, parking will be at a premium, so come early.

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