It was a long road in the most difficult conference in the country, but on their final day of the regular season, Arizona Softball won their 11th Pac-12 Conference title.
The Arizona Softball team had gone undefeated for most of the conference season. However, that didn’t give them any breathing room as the Oregon Ducks were also beating all their opponents. After Oregon had lost a couple of games, the Utah Utes crept into second place and took the series against Arizona.
The last several weeks of the regular season were grueling having to play at Utah and UCLA, and at home against the powerful Ducks and arch-rival Arizona State Sun Devils.
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As predicted, the conference title remained up for grabs last weekend with Arizona in the driver’s seat. Win the series at UCLA and come home with some hardware. There was just one problem, the series was against Arizona’s biggest softball rival, and it didn’t take place in comfortable Hillenbrand Stadium in Tucson. Compounding the challenge: UCLA was hot; they were playing their best softball of the season.
Coming off the series win against ASU and an 8-0 run-rule of the Sun Devils in the final game, the team felt confident. But they didn’t look like themselves in game one. As UCLA’s pitcher took control, the Wildcats looked tentative and impatient at the plate. UCLA handed Arizona an 8-0 run-rule loss.
Things weren’t much better in game two on Saturday. Arizona lost 6-0, but the game went the full seven innings. The Wildcats got the lead runner on base in every inning except one, but they couldn’t get anyone to cross home plate. Luckily, the second place Utah Utes were also struggling.
Finally, on Sunday the Wildcats had one last chance. Senior pitcher Danielle O’Toole is a candidate for player of the year but for some reason she had never beaten UCLA. Since UCLA ate her up Friday night, how would she adjust? Was the pressure getting to be too much for this talented team? Where was Arizona’s other POY candidate Katiyana Mauga‘s 90th home run? Wouldn’t it be great to get that against UCLA, which would tie the Bruin’s Stacey Nuveman at 90 home runs in a career?
Sunday was a new day and a rejuvenated attitude for Arizona Softball. They came out aggressive in the first inning and finally scored in the series. No, Katiyana Mauga did not hit her 90th home run. Instead, it was once again freshman Jessie Harper who hit a grand slam, the second in two weeks.
Arizona fans are thrilled that Harper is just finishing her freshman year and will return for several more seasons. With Mauga and seniors Mandie Perez and Mo Mercado graduating, Arizona is losing a lot of its potent offense.
On the other hand, there may be some softball enthusiasts who don’t want Jessie Harper in their vicinity. (Those attending the regional games at Hillenbrand in Tucson, there is safe parking in the lots across Speedway, out of Harper’s range.)
Danielle O’Toole allowed some scattered hits through seven innings, but overall she had the Bruins’ number all game. The Wildcats won 7-2. O’Toole got her first victory over UCLA along with her first Pac-12 title.
Arizona fans love to hear the McKale game intro video updates each fall as the athletic department adds to the number of titles and levels of the NCAA tournament achieved the previous season. Hillenbrand fans don’t have to wait so long. When they come to the regional games next week, they will have an updated outfield wall.
Tonight we found out Arizona received a No. 2 seed, their highest seed since 2007. Therefore they will be hosting in the first round:vSouth Carolina vs. Saint Francis (PA) and New Mexico State vs. Arizona. If they win their regional, they will play at in the Super Regional. The winner of each of the eight Super Regionals goes to the College World Series in Oklahoma City.
There is a lot of softball before then. For now, show up to game one on Friday at 6:30 (Shown on ESPNU). Thanks, Arizona Softball, congratulations on the title and to the graduating seniors, and #BearDown in the post-season.