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Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea on baseball champs: ‘They made it look easy’

Mike Candrea appreciates how Andy Lopez revamped the culture of the baseball program. Photo by Anthony Gimino, TucsonCitizen.com

Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea, an ardent baseball fan who knows a few things about winning national championships, appreciated how the Wildcats went about winning the Men’s College World Series.

“Business-like,” Candrea said earlier this week at the on-campus celebration of the UA baseball team’s national title.

“You could kind of see it when they were in regionals, and then in Super Regionals; things were kind of rolling. It was just fun to watch because I never saw any panic. Just very business-like, under control, having fun. All the things that you want to see were there.

“They made it look easy.”

The championship marked the first for Arizona baseball since 1986, which was Candrea’s first season leading the softball team. He has gone on to win eight national championships, as the softball program eclipsed baseball in terms of fan support.

Although Candrea and baseball coach Andy Lopez share similar philosophies and religious faith — with off-the-chart people skills — their concurrent seasons mean that their interactions over the years has been “very little,” Candrea said.

“I wish we had more,” Candrea said.

“I told him, I want to sit down with you for a little bit and just talk. Because, obviously, he changed the culture of this team in a very, very big way the past couple of years, and it was very obvious that they were not only great athletes but great people. You can see it.”

One of Lopez’s low moments at Arizona was in 2009, when he had, as he calls it, a team of “knuckleheads.” That Arizona team was one of only two that has missed the postseason in the past 10 years.

The freshman class Lopez brought in after that turned into the juniors who formed the core of the title team.

It’s no secret that Candrea has been struggling with the culture of his program in the past couple of years, trying to re-find the right combination of players and passion that was common for most of the previous two decades.

“The only thing I’m sad about is I wish every one of our players was sitting here, watching this,” Candrea said of Tuesday’s celebration at McKale Center, when almost 5,100 fans turned out to cheer on the baseball team.

Candrea said that the majority of his team was out of town; he saw only outfielder Chelsea Suitos in the crowd.

Candrea said he will make an announcement Friday about his coaching staff. Longtime assistant Larry Ray, who was on a leave at the end of last season, resigned last week. Candrea replaced him on the coaching staff late in the season with former Wildcats ace Alicia Hollowell, who had been serving as director of operations. Considering that UA did not post a job opening for an assistant softball coach, it is expected that Hollowell will be announced as a full-time member of the coaching staff.

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