Competition means Arizona may be back at Hillenbrand soon
Arizona senior pitcher Taryne Mowatt said she would be angry if the Wildcats had to play on the road in the first round of the postseason.
She will have a looooong plane ride to work up a really good lather.
It’s not really a surprise, given the way the NCAA softball selection committee does business, that Arizona was sent packing for a four-team regional that begins Friday . . . although the actual distance might be a bit shocking to the system.
The Wildcats will travel almost 2,500 miles to Hempstead, N.Y., on Long Island to play against host Hofstra, Long Island University and Canisius.
“I would really like to play here in front of our fans,” Mowatt said Saturday after a 6-1 home victory over Stanford. “But if they send us away, we’ll just go somewhere else and cause problems there.”
Good news: Arizona is seeded seventh overall in the 64-team field and would be in line to be home for a best-of-three super regional on May 23-24.
Looking ahead – never a good idea for a team, but OK for the rest of us – the Wildcats are staring at a super-regional matchup against 10th-seeded Oklahoma.
Looking way ahead – getting into dangerous territory here – Arizona could play UCLA, the tournament’s No. 2 overall seed, in a power-packed first-round game at the Women’s College World Series.
OK, back to the business at hand. . . . Why isn’t Arizona playing at Hillenbrand Stadium this weekend?
A couple of points: The Wildcats scuffled on the field for too much of the season, losing games they shouldn’t have lost. In that sense, they have no one to blame but themselves.
The real reason, though, is that college softball, which has gone through a growth spurt and popularity boom, isn’t exactly men’s basketball. Or even women’s basketball.
The selection committee emphasizes geography in setting the regional matchups. Having Arizona travel to play three teams from New York is more economical than sending three New York teams to Tucson.
That’s just the way it is.
As another example, 12th-seeded Stanford has to play at UMass in a regional that includes Princeton and Lehigh.
This has never been much of an issue for UA, which finished first or second in the Pac-10 each of the previous 16 seasons, thereby earning a certain amount of protection from being one of the designated travel teams.
The Wildcats in that span have had to be road warriors only twice in regional play – in 1996 and 2002. They advanced to the World Series both times.
A third-place finish in the Pac-10 this season meant Arizona had to pack up its cleats and head east to play automatic postseason qualifiers from smaller conferences.
Don’t cry for the Cats, though. This is something of a gift. Any team can be undone by a hot pitcher, but the Northeast schools don’t typically provide the stiffest competition.
Arizona played Long Island in February in Palm Springs, Calif., winning 4-0 as freshman Lindsey Sisk threw a shutout, but that was the extent of interim head coach Larry Ray’s immediate scouting report on the regional.
“We’ll have to get on the phone and talk to people who have played them to get some information,” he said. “Hofstra is generally one of the better teams in the Northeast.”
The location is less important than the state of the team, and the Wildcats are playing their best ball of the season, which is a credit to Ray being able to guide the team through tough times.
Arizona won its final five games – all over ranked teams – to finish 36-16 overall. The Cats were 13-8 in the Pac-10.
If the Wildcats play anywhere near that level this weekend, they haven’t made their final Hillenbrand Stadium appearance of the season.
“The last two weeks, gosh, it’s the Arizona of old,” Ray said. “This is the team that I know they’re capable of being. I’m ready for this. Bring on Hofstra. Bring on Long Island. Bring on Canisius.”
Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Game 1: Arizona vs. Canisius, 9 a.m.
Game 2: Hofstra vs. Long Island, 11:30 a.m.
Game 3: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 7 a.m.
Game 4: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 9:30 a.m.
Game 5: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, noon
Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 9 a.m.
Game 7: Same two teams (if necessary)
Breakdown of the opposition, Page 8C
SCOUTING THE FIELD
Location: Hempstead, N.Y.
Conference: Colonial Athletic
Top pitcher: Kayleigh Lotti (21-5, 1.22 ERA, 223 strikeouts in 177 2/3 innings)
Note: This is the third consecutive season in which Hofstra has been a regional host. The Pride have won 30 of their past 34 games.
Location: Brooklyn, N.Y.
Top pitcher: Blaire Porter (20-8, 1.01 ERA, 200 strikeouts in 187 2/3 innings)
Note: Arizona had nine hits and four runs off Porter in a 4-0 victory over LIU in a tournament in Palm Springs in February.
Nickname: Golden Griffins
Location: Buffalo, N.Y.
Conference: Metro Atlantic
Top pitcher: Juliette Bowers (20-1, 1.95 ERA, 126 strikeouts in 139 2/3 innings)
Note: Canisius has two players hitting over .400 (Katie Miranto and Jenny Maheu) and has stolen 100 bases in 107 attempts. The Griffs have eight players from California.