Thanks! The Arizona Softball weekend series with in-state rival Arizona State was intense, and the rubber game did not disappoint any Wildcat fan who attended at Hillenbrand.
Those of us who live in the Phoenix area try to take advantage of any chance we can to see our Arizona Wildcats. Usually that means catching a football game at Sun Devil Stadium or a basketball game at Wells Fargo Arena.
It is hard to stomach the mustard yellow, but it’s a small sacrifice to see our Wildcats. Living in Tempe, it’s pretty easy to run up to ASU and catch a softball game or gymnastics meet when the Wildcats come to town. Suffice to say I have seen several Arizona softball games at Arizona State’s Farrington Stadium.
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The Arizona Softball team has been televised on the Pac-12 Networks quite a bit this season, and just recently ESPN came to Tucson for two of the games against the Oregon Ducks.
Over and over the announcers praise Hillenbrand and the fans. This year’s squad has been ranked in the top 10 all year, and have climbed as high as No.2 in the polls. This was the time, I needed to get to Tucson to see this squad at home before the season ended.
Arizona won the first game of the three game series against ASU. It was a nail-biter with the Wildcats coming out on top 4-3. Even though it was a win, watching on television it felt as though the team was a little on edge.
There wasn’t a fire. Even after the game Coach Mike Candrea said he wanted to see more energy. Saturday’s game unfortunately flipped to the Sun Devils. The Wildcats couldn’t get timely hits against their number two pitcher, Giselle Juarez.
Something had to give on Sunday for Arizona. They needed to relax and play like they own the Sun Devils and the Pac-12. They were at home against their archrivals. It was Senior Day. A win was crucial to stay in the hunt for the conference title. What better game to catch?
I couldn’t have made a better decision as to which game to attend. As we walked towards the stadium there it was–red and blue everywhere, so different than Tempe.
Of course everything is red and blue on a Saturday in the fall on campus but this was a Sunday evening.
The campus seemed eerily quiet, but the crowd heading for Hillenbrand was upbeat and confident. Ever since Greg Byrne took over as athletic director, I have noticed employees at Arizona Stadium and McKale go out of their way to be friendly, whether it’s at the concession stand, ticket takers, or security. It was no different at Hillenbrand and it’s nice to see the courtesy continuing under new AD Dave Heeke.
We were lucky enough to get some of the last remaining seats in the outfield behind left field. On our way to our seats senior pitching ace Danielle O’Toole was warming up.
It felt like she was an arms length away. Well, maybe two arms. Regardless, there she was. What adjustments would Arizona State have made entering the game, seeing her for the second time that weekend? We heard the pop as the warm-up pitch landed in the catcher’s mitt. A few words were exchanged and the catcher smiled at O’Toole, nodded, and said she looked good. They were ready to go.
We took our seats and saw the Senior Moms lining up on the field. The first pitch was actually eight pitches. Each mom threw a ball to her daughter. And Danielle O’Toole’s sister sang the National Anthem.
The last tribute went to the three Arizona State seniors as the Wildcats handed each girl a bouquet of flowers. That was the last nice gesture towards the Sun Devils.
On television the announcers comment regularly about the sun. As spring progresses, the evening games mean the sun’s setting rays aim right into the left and center fielders’ eyes. That means the sun sets into the cheap seats in the outfield.
It really was hard to see. But nobody around us complained. There were guessing games about when the sun would finally drop behind a tree in the distance, but it was okay. If we had trouble seeing maybe ASU’s outfielders also would. Any advantage was just fine.
O’Toole was sharp from the start. She struck out two of the first three batters. She remained strong throughout the game. Between her pitches and Arizona’s defense, ASU never scored. Meanwhile, Arizona’s bats came to life.
The proper story line would be senior Katiyana Mauga hitting her 90th career home run against ASU on Senior Day. Instead, a freshman stole the offensive show. First baseman Jessie Harper hit two home runs, including one grand slam for a total of five RBIs.
The Pac-12 Conference noted Harper’s contribution and she was awarded a couple honors this week.
Suddenly the score was 8-0 Wildcats, and all Arizona had to do was keep the Sun Devils from scoring in the fifth and the game would be over. They succeeded and as the game quickly ended, the sun dropped behind that trees in the distance, just in time to enjoy the Senior Day celebration.
Imagine how many Eegees could be sold during these hot afternoon games at Hillenbrand. It has been years since they were sold at Arizona Stadium during football games, even cold, night games late in the fall. Arizona softball at Hillenbrand seems to be the perfect atmosphere for the slushy drink.
The Pac-12 season is just about over with the Wildcats visiting UCLA this weekend. It is likely the team will host at least the first round in the NCAA Regionals.
The home field advantage will be key in the postseason, and depending on the time of day, the setting sun may be a benefit to the Wildcats. There will be at least a couple more opportunities to see this team this season at Hillenbrand.
Tickets may be hard to get, but it’s worth a try to find some and enjoy a fast-paced and exciting sporting event. And as a bonus when they do the t-shirt toss, everyone actually has a chance to catch one!
Good luck in the tournament Arizona Softball. Thanks for a great time this year.