Arizona Softball Headed to Women's College World Series

Arizona softball

The University of Arizona softball team defeated the University of Arkansas, 4-1, on May 29 to earn one of eight spots in the Women's College World Series. The Wildcats will take on the University of Alabama on Thursday, June 3, at 4 p.m.

Patrick Meredith / Arizona Athletics

It has been a spring to remember for Arizona Athletics.

After spring sports were cut short last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dozens of Wildcat athletes have helped lead their teams to some of the best seasons in school history.

Arizona's softball team recently qualified for its 24th Women's College World Series berth in the program's storied history, but that isn't the only highlight.

Wildcats fans witnessed the women's basketball team, led by coach Adia Barnes, march all the way to the championship game.

The men's tennis team advanced to the Round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history before losing to the University of Tennessee. Head coach Clancy Shields was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year and player Gustaf Strom earned the conference's Freshman/Newcomer of the Year award.

The baseball team clinched its first Pac-12 regular season title in nine years on May 23. On Monday, the Wildcats earned the No. 5 overall seed in the College World Series and enters postseason play as one of the favorites to win the title. They will start tournament play on Friday as they host Grand Canyon University at 7 p.m. (Check back next week for a full breakdown of the baseball team's season.)

The women's golf team advanced to the Final Four before falling to the eventual national champion, the University of Mississippi. The Wildcats' upset victory over No. 1 Stanford featured one of the best shots in Arizona golf history – Gile Bite Starkute's 30-foot putt to clinch the match. Arizona is the only program to qualify for golf's Final Four for the last three years in a row.

The University of Arizona is one of only five colleges to qualify for the Women's College World Series and the Women's Basketball Final Four in the same season – and the first to do so since 2007. The other four colleges are the University of Tennessee, Louisiana State University, the University of Texas and the University of Oklahoma.

The softball team, which has won 41 of its 54 games, punched its ticket to the Women's College World Series after sweeping the No. 6-seed Arkansas Razorbacks in this weekend's Super Regional by a combined score of 14-5 over the course of both games (10-4 in Friday's game and 4-1 in Saturday's clincher).

After completing a pandemic-compressed regular season that saw its fair share of ups and downs, Arizona heads to Oklahoma City as one of the hottest teams in the nation. The Wildcats will take on the Alabama Crimson Tide to open the Women's College World Series on Thursday. The game will air at 4 p.m. Tucson time on ESPN.

How Did They Get Here?

Here are a few numbers that tell the story of the Wildcats' success.

45: That's the number of runs the Wildcats have scored in their five playoff games.

During a typical Women's College World Series run, Arizona squads usually rely on a dominant pitcher to shut down opposing batters. Jennie Finch, Taryne Mowatt, Alicia Howell and Nancy Evans are the names and the arms many diehard Wildcat fans remember.

This year's team has been bolstered by a pitching-by-committee approach. Hanah Bowen and Alyssa Denham have each shined in the pitcher's circle, and Mariah Lopez was the hero of the regional-clinching win over the University of Mississippi on May 23.

But this year's World Series run will be remembered for Arizona's dominant offensive performances.

The Wildcats socked six home runs in the Tucson regional and followed up with five more against Arkansas. Star catcher Dejah Mulipola leads all Arizona hitters with four homers in postseason play and 21 on the season. Shortstop slugger Jessie Harper has 15 home runs this season, bringing her career total to 90, which is third in the history of college softball. She trails former Wildcat superstar Katiyana Mauga by two and is only five shy of the all-time record of 95, set by Oklahoma's Lauren Chamberlain in 2015.

Arizona's offense will need to fire on all cylinders against an Alabama squad that has allowed only 87 earned runs in 55 games this season. Alabama's Montana Fouts is one of the nation's leaders in strikeouts (314), but she has given up 11 home runs this season.

7: That's the number of "super seniors" on Arizona's roster.

With last season cut short, the NCAA granted spring athletes an additional year of eligibility, which meant Wildcats fans got to see Harper, Denham, Lopez, Reyna Carranco, Malia Martinez and Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza in action for one more season. Mulipola took a redshirt season last year to train with the U.S. Women's National Team in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics, but when COVID-19 interrupted the Olympics, she joined the "super seven" to take care of what the crew has called "unfinished business."

The super seniors have made their presences felt in major ways. Mulipola and Harper have been the team's most consistent power hitters, and Carranco and Martinez have helped anchor one of the nation's best defensive infields.

Palomino-Cardoza – the player affectionately nicknamed "Great-Grandma" by her teammates – socked the game-clinching two-run home run in the nail-biting victory over Arkansas. Not a bad way to celebrate her 24th birthday.

2.6: That's how many seconds it takes for freshman sensation Janelle Meoño to run to first base after one of her patented slaps down the third-base line.

The 5-foot-4 Meoño has been the spark for Arizona's offense all season. The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year led the conference in batting average (.450) and played tremendous defense in left field, throwing out countless runners with her powerful arm.

But it's Meoño's footspeed and ability to make contact that keeps opposing defenses on their heels.

1,674: This is the number of wins head coach Mike Candrea has collected over his 36-year career. No softball coach has more.

The most successful coach in college softball history, Candrea is seeking his ninth Women's College World Series title. He already holds the record with eight, and he has a 2004 Olympic gold medal and a 2008 silver medal.

Candrea's squads have won nearly 80% of the time over three-and-a-half decades. He has never coached a team that finished a season with a losing record.

"We need to execute the game no matter where we're at," Candrea said after his team clinched the Tucson regional. "We're going to have to supply our own energy. At this stage of the game, there's no tomorrow. If that's not something that motivates you, then I don't know what to say."

Candrea and the Wildcats begin their quest for the program's first softball championship since 2007 on Thursday. Follow Arizona Softball on Twitter for live updates and watch the games on the ESPN family of networks.


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