Okies have done more than OK vs. Wildcats
The travel was ridiculous, the competition cursory, and now the Arizona softball team returns to familiar postseason territory.
The Wildcats return Monday from winning a regional in Hempstead, N.Y., sweeping three games by a combined 26-0, including a clinching 5-0 victory over host Hofstra on Sunday.
The softball was the easy part.
Tougher was the travel, including a 14-hour outbound trip on a chartered plane that had to refuel twice. Then, Friday’s game was rained out, the bus driver got lost going back to the hotel and there was more rain Sunday as UA had to stick around for early-Monday morning flights.
For its return, the team was able to book commercial flights . . . on three different airlines. The traveling party, split in three, was scheduled to arrive in Phoenix at similar times and then all bus back to Tucson in the afternoon. Hope everyone makes it on time.
“This has been an awful trip,” said pitcher Taryne Mowatt, who won all three UA games at the regional. “It’s been crazy.”
Now, it gets serious.
Arizona, seeded seventh overall in the tournament, will play Oklahoma, seeded 10th and something of a nemesis.
ESPN is fully on board, televising all three games (if necessary) on its flagship network. The first game will be played at 4:30 p.m. Friday. The second game is Saturday at 11:30 a.m., followed 30 minutes later by the third game, if necessary.
When the teams last met, the Sooners put an 11-0 run-rule beat-down on the Wildcats. It was March 18, 2007, in the final of the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif. That was UA’s second game of the day, and Mowatt did not pitch.
“Yeah, it wasn’t a good feeling, but it was early in the year,” Mowatt said in a phone interview. “I think at the end of the year, they would not have been able to beat us. Hopefully, that will be the case this year.”
Mowatt faced the Sooners three days earlier in the tournament, taking a 6-2 loss.
The teams have a good history this decade.
Oklahoma eliminated Arizona 1-0 in the semifinals of the 2000 Women’s College World Series en route to the national championship. UA beat the Sooners at the Series a year later on its way to the title.
The Sooners were part of the group that knocked out Arizona in the 2004 regionals at Hillenbrand Stadium, the only time the Wildcats failed to advance to the Series since missing out in 1987.
Larry Ray was UA’s interim coach that season as Mike Candrea was off coaching the U.S. Olympic team. So, in that sense, things are coming full circle for Ray.
That’s also true for UA’s four-year seniors – Mowatt, catcher Callista Balko and right fielder Adrienne Acton.
They were freshman in 2005 when the Wildcats got revenge by sweeping a best-of-three super-regional at home against Oklahoma. That was the first year of the super-regional format.
“It’s going to be a good series,” Mowatt said.
It’s definitely a powerhouse series, one of the most intriguing among the eight nationally. Mowatt and Oklahoma ace D.J. Mathis can shut down any team. Likewise, each team’s hitters are capable of smacking around elite pitching.
Arizona, before regional play, led the nation by averaging 1.58 home runs per game. The Wildcats then hit six in three games.
Oklahoma was seventh with 1.27 homers per game. The Sooners blasted four more in three regional games.
The Wildcats didn’t go deep Sunday, but broke through with three runs in the fourth inning. Brittany Lastrapes drove in Lauren Schutzler from second with a one-out single, and Cyndi Duran also scored on a throwing error on the play.
Jenae Leles hit a sacrifice fly later in the inning for a 3-0 lead.
Arizona scored two more in the fifth on an RBI double by Duran and a sacrifice fly by K’Lee Arredondo.
Mowatt (27-12) allowed three hits, striking out five and walking two.
“We played extremely well this weekend,” Ray said.
“I was proud of this group for handling things the way they did. The travel was tough and conditions were not excellent. Overall, things could have better, but they handled it and played well.”
La.-Lafayette at Houston
at Texas A&M
Note: The winner of each best-of-three series will advance to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.
OKLAHOMA (46-12) at ARIZONA (39-16)at Hillenbrand Stadium
Game 1: 4:30 p.m.
Game 2: 11:30 a.m.
Game 3: 30 minutes later, if necessary
Top pitcher: D.J. Mathis. The junior won all three OU games in regional play after earning first-team All-Big 12 honors. She has a 1.09 ERA in 224 2/3 innings, with 253 strikeouts and 71 walks.
Top hitters: The Sooners had four hitters make the All-Big 12 first team: 2B Amber Flores (.381, 13 HRs), SS Savannah Long (.366, 12 HRs), 1B Samantha Ricketts (.355, 12 HRs) and C Lindsey Vandever (.331, 6 HRs).
Notable: The National Fastpitch Coaches Association has had 185 polls since the inception of its rankings. Only two teams have been ranked in every poll. Yep, you guessed it . . . Arizona and Oklahoma.