Return to OKC: Wildcats to make 25th Women's College World Series appearance
The University of Arizona softball team will play Oklahoma State University Thursday at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN.
Oklahoma City: It's a familiar destination for the University of Arizona softball team. Only UCLA can claim more appearances in the history of the Women's College World Series, and only a handful of other programs can even enter the conversation when it comes to sustained softball excellence.
This year's path to Oklahoma City, however, sets this season apart from all the rest.
Before we get to the postseason heroics and the jubilant selfies taken in Starkville, Mississippi, let's flash back to April 2. The Wildcats had just lost 7-5 to the Washington Huskies. It was Arizona's eighth straight loss to a Pac-12 opponent, and the squad found itself in completely foreign territory – the basement of the conference standings.
It's the last place head coach Caitlin Lowe expected to see her squad. Granted, taking over for a legend like Mike Candrea – a coach whose name is synonymous with the sport itself – presents its own set of unique challenges, but Lowe isn't type of person or coach who budgets time for an extended rebuilding process. Lowe's accomplishments as a player will remain etched in the Arizona record books for eternity. A four-time All-American and a two-time national champion (2006 and 2007), Lowe ranks second in batting average (.446), fourth in hits (351), fourth in triples (12), seventh in runs scored (242) and first in stolen bases (156). She might be the best centerfielder in the history of college softball.
Lowe might not have lost eight straight softball games in her entire life prior to April 2. With their backs against the wall and 11 teams ahead of them in the conference standings, Lowe and the Wildcats went to work. They steadily clawed their way back into postseason contention. The Pac-12 sent five squads to the NCAA Super Regionals, with the Wildcats upsetting the No. 15 University of Missouri to qualify for the program's eighth straight Super Regional.
If the season had ended here, it would have been a magnificent triumph. Few people expected to see the unranked, unseeded Wildcats make any postseason noise this year, but taking out the Tigers served notice that the Arizona softball program is still a force to be reckoned with.
Defeating Mississippi State in front of their home fans this past weekend? That was icing on the cake.
Friday's 3-2 extra innings triumph over the Bulldogs goes on the shortlist of "most exciting Arizona softball games in history," thanks to Izzy Pacho's game-clinching home run. Saturday's seven-run fourth inning was among the most dominant stretches of clutch softball the Wildcats have ever played.
How did the Wildcats pull of such an incredible turnaround? It has been a total team effort, but the most significant difference between April 2 and today is the stellar pitching of Hanah Bowen and Devyn Netz.
The Wildcats have given up a total of three runs in their four games against Missouri and Mississippi State. Bowen and Netz have each pitched two complete games, and both seem to get sharper as the games extend into the later innings. They have benefitted from rock-solid glove work behind them, with the Wildcats committing only one fielding error over the last 29 innings.
Throw in some timely power hitting from Pacho, Carlie Scupin, Allie Skaggs and Sharlize Palacios – all of whom are capable of sending the ball over the fence on any pitch – and the Wildcats are a more-than-worthy entrant into the Women's College World Series field.
There are only eight teams remaining. It doesn't matter where any of them sat in the standings on April 2. All that matters is what happens this week in Oklahoma City. As Lowe said shortly after the Wildcats punched their ticket to Oklahoma City: "We're not ready to be done yet."
The Wildcats begin their quest for their ninth Women's College World Series title Thursday against No. 7 Oklahoma State at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN.
Baseball qualifies for NCAA Tournament
The softball squad isn't the only team advancing in postseason play. The University of Arizona baseball team has earned its second straight NCAA Baseball Tournament appearance and its first under rookie head coach Chip Hale.
The Wildcats are headed to Coral Gables, Florida, to take part in regional competition, hosted by the University of Miami. Arizona opens the tournament against the University of Mississippi at 4 p.m. Friday on ESPNU.
University of Arizona in the News