The Arizona Wildcats softball team hasn’t always played its best against the best this season.
Arizona, which finished the season ranked 10th in the USA Today coaches poll, went 1-6 against the other nine teams in the top 10.
The Cats went 9-13 against the other 15 teams competing in this weekend’s Super Regionals.
UA was swept in two games by Oklahoma.
And that’s what really matters right now.
The Sooners will be coming to Tucson to play a best-of-three NCAA Super Regional, beginning Friday at 8:30 p.m. (ESPNU). Saturday’s game is at 2 p.m. on ESPN, followed by another game at about 4:30 p.m., if necessary.
“Both times we played them we have not been at our best,” said Arizona sophomore pitcher Kenzie Fowler.
“For some reason, we have been down in the ditch when we played them. For me, it’s kind of exciting to know we have given those games way and we haven’t even really challenged them yet. In the early season we had a lot of ups and downs. It’s exciting to know we are on roll now.”
To stay on a roll, Arizona is going to solve Oklahoma sophomore left-hander Keilani Ricketts.
She struck out 10 in five innings as the Sooners beat Arizona 11-1 in Tempe in a run-rule victory on the third day of the season, Feb. 12. Ricketts pitched an inning in relief as OU won 5-3 at a tournament in Fullerton, Calif., on March 17.
Ricketts (27-13) ended the regular season fourth nationally with 11.5 strikeouts per seven innings.
“Some of the times we have played the really good teams … look at our record, it’s not very good. The games were not even games,” Arizona coach Mike Candrea said Sunday after the Wildcats won an NCAA regional at Hillenbrand Stadium.
“We have some maturing to do. And I can’t think of a better time and a better arena than to do it here in front of our fans. That’s what I told them today — we have three of four days to get ourselves ready to play the best softball we have played all year.”
Ricketts is a strikeout ace, a hard-throwing left-hander who struck out a school-record 19 batters against Iona in regional play. Ricketts fanned 10 in five innings when the Sooners beat UA in Tempe this season.
Arizona has four left-handers in its lineup — Brittany Lastrapes, Lauren Schutzler, Stacie Chambers and Karissa Buchanan.
The lefty-lefty matchup might not be as pronounced in softball as it in baseball (different release point, angles and distance to the plate), but Candrea said Ricketts will be plenty tough on his lefthanders because she throws hard, down and away.
“If the (strike) zone is pretty wide, then it really becomes a problem for our lefties,” Candrea said.
This will be third time in the past seven seasons that the Sooners will play the Cats in a Super Regional in Tucson. UA won in 2005 and 2008.
Arizona is seeded eighth in the NCAA tournament. Oklahoma is ninth. As the seedings indicate, this is expected to one of the most competitive, most intriguing Super Regionals.
“Keilani has been successful against them, and our hitters have had success,” OU coach Patty Gasso was quoted as saying in The Oklahoman. “But this is a different beast when you’re playing at their place, and you’re playing for a trip to the College World Series.”
WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING
“(N)othing on tap this weekend is quite as compelling as Oklahoma and Arizona dueling in the desert. For the Sooners, it’s one more chance to get back to the World Series, so close to their home turf in Norman, Okla., for the first time since 2004. That quest is all the more compelling with Bedlam rival Oklahoma State on the verge of making its own trip to the World Series. And for the Wildcats, it’s the annual opportunity to prove that no matter how much parity may creep across the landscape, any program with Mike Candrea remains near the front of the line for as long as he chooses to remain in the dugout.” — ESPN columnist Graham Hayes, in a story about the top Super Regional storylines.
Arizona-Oklahoma Super Regional History
2005 — Super regionals (Hillenbrand Stadium)
Arizona 6, Oklahoma 0
Arizona 7, Oklahoma 6
2008 — Super regionals (Hillenbrand Stadium)
Arizona 3, Oklahoma 1
Oklahoma 2, Arizona 0
Arizona 5, Oklahoma 2