Arizona Wildcats coach Mike Candrea prepared for the worst. He got the best.
It was a happy surprise that as he watched the NCAA Tournament selection show last night at his house with friends, family, former Wildcats and invited media, Arizona’s name came up as a No. 8 seed and as a host for a regional this weekend at Hillenbrand Stadium.
Candrea, who had told his team Saturday to prepare to play on the road, called the Wildcats’ postseason scenario a “blessing” — as good as it could possibly be.
“The tradition of the program really kind of helped Arizona right now get a home bid,” Candrea said.
“I’m just very elated to be playing a home and playing at Hillenbrand Stadium. Hopefully, this can give this team the spark and the energy they need to come out and play this game the way it is supposed to be played.”
Arizona will play host to one of 16 four-team, double-elimination regionals. Texas Tech will play New Mexico State at 4 p.m. Friday, followed by Arizona-Harvard at 6:30 p.m.
Looking further down the road, the Wildcats would host a super regional the following weekend — potentially against No. 9 seed Oklahoma — if they win the Tucson regional.
Looking even further down the road, Arizona is in line to play the tournament’s No. 1 seed — rival Arizona State — in the first round of the Women’s College World Series.
“There is all this stuff sitting in front of them,” Candrea said of his team, “and they need to absorb it, take it and run with it.”
Arizona finished the regular season with consecutive home losses to Cal. The Wildcats are 40-16 overall, finishing 11-10 in the Pac-10, tied for third.
“I was not expecting this at all,” sophomore pitcher Kenzie Fowler said in a phone interview, talking about being at home for the postseason.
“I was looking at the TV and everyone in my family started yelling and I couldn’t even hear that they said it was going to be in Tucson. It was craziness.”
Arizona will get a chance to extend its NCAA-record attendance mark for a season. The Wildcats have drawn 64,655 to Hillenbrand Stadium this season.
“Playing in front of our fans is worth something,” Candrea said. “I have always felt that way. Any time we can be at home, we have an advantage.”
Fowler is coming off one of her worst performances, as she gave up 12 hits and six runs — five earned — in six innings in a 6-3 loss at Cal on Saturday.
“That last game wasn’t the way we wanted to leave Hillenbrand,” Fowler said. “It means a lot to be back there and to have a chance to have a different feeling at Hillenbrand.”
TUCSON REGIONAL SCHEDULE
Game 1, 4 p.m. — Texas Tech vs. New Mexico State
Game 2, 6:30 p.m. — Arizona vs. Harvard
Game 3, 2 p.m. — Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2
Game 4, 4:30 p.m. — Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2
Game 5, 7 p.m. — Loser Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4
Game 6, noon — Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 5
Game 7, 2 p.m. — Repeat Game 6, if necessary