Arizona Softball just misses the College World Series leaving fans stunned

Aug 3, 2016; Huntington Beach, CA, USA; Birmingham Thunderbolts helmets line the dugout during the game against the OC Batbusters at Huntington Beach Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 3, 2016; Huntington Beach, CA, USA; Birmingham Thunderbolts helmets line the dugout during the game against the OC Batbusters at Huntington Beach Sports Complex. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports /

The Arizona Softball team and their fans were devastated when the Wildcats lost game three against Baylor in the Super Regionals on Sunday.

From early in the season, Coach Mike Candrea told the media and fans this was the team that had all the elements to get Arizona Softball back to the Women’s College World Series. Unfortunately, the Wildcats barely missed this long-awaited opportunity after a tough loss to the Baylor Bears.

As we know, the 1-2 punch of pitchers Danielle O’Toole and Taylor McQuillin, powerful hitting by Katiyana Mauga and Mo Mercado, a talented freshman class, eight seniors, and a “team first” personality set the table for a remarkable and historical softball season. There was no reason, barring a major injury, this group would not make a trip to Oklahoma City on June 1st after a seven-year drought.

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It didn’t happen. There were plenty of opportunities, and there is no need to recap the Super Regional here; anyone reading this likely watched the games. The entire team is devastated. The great Arizona fans are devastated. The team feels for their coach and their fans. The fans feel for the coach and the team. That is family.

In the heat of the moment after the loss, there are always some “fans” who want the coach replaced. We saw this after Arizona Basketball’s loss in the Sweet 16 just two months ago. We all know there is no better softball coach than Mike Candrea. The reason there is an increase in successful college softball programs is Candrea set the standard. He set the bar high.

Other coaches only dream of his success. Michigan’s coach, Carol Hutchins is second only to Coach Candrea in the number of Division 1 wins. But Candrea has eight times as many National Titles. We heard Mandie Perez state in an ESPN interview say she wanted to get to Oklahoma City for Coach Candrea. We heard Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Danielle O’Toole tell ESPN she considers him the best person other than her parents. She wants to please her Coach.

It seems if Arizona Athletics isn’t hit with injuries, we are hit with some odd ‘we almost made it’ curse.

Just in the last 11 months, we can look at Arizona Baseball, Arizona Basketball, and Arizona Softball just heartbeats away from the next round or National Championship. We are tired of it. We saw advertisements throughout Game 3 of the Super Regional the Pac-12 hit 500 national titles on Sunday.

It’s a conference effort. Of course, some schools lead the way with titles, but Arizona has provided its share. How many times did we think maybe National Title 501 might just be this 2017 Pac-12 Championship softball team? I did.

One of the reasons we are enamored with Arizona Softball is year after year we get to know these girls like they are our daughters, sisters, friends, nieces, or Twitter pals. Coach Candrea does a great job of recruiting not just great athletes, but great people. I can’t think of one instance one of his athletes has done something to embarrass the program or the University of Arizona. This is the case season after season and all of the parents should be very proud, including this team’s parents.

Additionally, softball players stay at U of A four years. Obviously the financial opportunities aren’t as high as other sports, but in the long run, these softball players are better off–they obtain a college degree which will never be taken away from them. So for four years, we get to know them.

They commit to the University and we commit to them.  There is no such thing as a drive-thru softball player–they give their all their college.

Arizona Softball players are easy to like. We care about them. Of course, we wanted Katiyana Mauga to break the NCAA home run record. It wasn’t because we wanted to see Arizona’s name in lights, it was because she is ours and we want her to reach the pinnacle of success. Well, she did, she broke Arizona’s record and the Pac-12 record. Her name will always be associated with The University of Arizona. That is family.

We so appreciate star pitcher Danielle O’Toole leaving San Diego State to come to Tucson and sit out a year just to play for our Wildcats. We know she did this to increase her chance of going to a College World Series. For this reason, we hurt for her. She sacrificed for us and missed out on her dream.

But O’Toole will be remembered as a star Arizona softball pitcher who brought Tucson another Pac-12 Championship in an incredibly competitive conference this year.

We lose eight seniors.  Ouch. We will gain a new freshman class to take us on another ride next year. This time last year, did any of us foresee the likes of Jessie Harper, the hero in Friday night’s game, on her 19th birthday? Glass companies are thrilled she has only just begun her career at Arizona.

And Reyna Carranco who somehow quietly always manages to get on base? Who will surprise us next year? Which current player will win our hearts from game to game? And which unknown yet-to-be Arizona freshman will become a fan favorite in 2018? Coach Mike Candrea doesn’t replace, he reloads.

Texas A & M’s pitcher, Trinity Harrington, lost her dad just days ago. Arizona’s loss to Baylor really means nothing when put in perspective. We know this, and the athletes know this. But someone had to win the Super Regional, why not Arizona? It’s just not right, not at losing at Hillenbrand.

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A friend recently said he recommends graduates figure out what kind of person they want to be, not what they want to be. He feels this will better help young people figure out a career path and how they want to map out their lives.

This Arizona Softball team may not know it, but they are already the types of people many of us strive to be. We can look to them as examples. Their politeness, determination, loyalty, grit, energy, and caring are traits all of us strive for. According to my friend’s view, Arizona Softball players are well on their way to success.