Arizona Wildcats softball coach Mike Candrea, a dogged New York Yankees fan who has a room in his house dedicated to Mickey Mantle memorabilia, needed the help of a former Boston Red Sox manager this week.
He said assistant coach Stacy Iveson wanted to show the team “Four Days in October” — ESPN’s 30 for 30 special about the 2004 Red Sox, which won four consecutive games in the American League Championship Series after being down 0-3 to the Yankees.
(This is something Iveson also used as motivation when she was head coach at Yavapai Community College last season.)
Candrea took the idea a step further and said, “Why don’t we bring in Terry Francona to talk to the team?”
And so he did.
Francona, the former UA baseball great who led Boston to World Series titles in 2004 and 2007 before being ousted after last season, talked to the softball Wildcats on Thursday, Candrea said. Francona, who also spoke to the Arizona baseball team before the season, is serving as an analyst this season for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball.
After Francona’s talk, Arizona went out and defeated Oregon State 12-4 in six innings Friday night at Hillenbrand Stadium behind a season-high 15 hits.
“We’ve been talking all week about trying to get on a roll,” Candrea said.
“Maybe they’re starting to understand that time is ticking. There is nothing to save right now. It’s time to come out and lay it all on the line.”
Arizona fell behind 3-0 but its first seven batters in the bottom of the fourth reached base safely, including a three-run homer by second baseman Kristen Arriola and a grand slam from third baseman Brigette Del Ponte. Catcher Lini Koria added a solo shot later in the inning.
“It feels great,” Arriola said of the run-rule victory. “It gives us momentum until the next day. I know the job isn’t done.”
Arizona (34-16 overall, 11-11 Pac-12) is playing its final series of the regular season. Oregon State is 33-20, 8-13. The teams play Friday night at 7 and Saturday at noon.
Shelby Babcock (18-9) picked up the victory, allowing six hits, striking out five and walking one. Four of those hits came in the second inning when she allowed three runs on a combination of infield bouncers and seeing-eye grounders.
“Sometimes that happens,” Candrea said.
“I was impressed with her. Stacy was yelling at her all night, ‘Give us one more pitch, give us one more pitch.’ I think that’s probably a good approach for her.”
Arizona is trying to finish with a flourish and be announced Sunday as one of 16 hosts for the NCAA regionals.
“These are important,” Candrea said of the next two games.
“We need to win this series to give ourselves any opportunity. They know it. We know it. They came out and played the game loose and with a purpose. It was fun to watch.”