University of Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea wasn’t sure how his team would handle the pressure of his program’s first Women’s College World Series game since 2010.
Turns out, the Wildcats were just fine.
Dejah Mulipola’s two-run homer to center field in the top of the eighth inning powered Arizona to a 3-1 win over Washington on Thursday.
Mulipola’s 23rd homer of the season helped the Wildcats (48-12) turn the tables on a Washington squad that went to Arizona’s field earlier this month and pulled off a three-game sweep.
“We kind of took it personal that we got swept at home,” Mulipola said. “To come back, have Washington our first game — to do what we did to them was just nice.”
It was a triumphant return to the World Series for sixth-seeded Arizona, which has 23 appearances — second most of any program behind UCLA — and eight national titles. The Wildcats made it look like old times against last year’s national runner-up.
“This is our first time here,” Arizona pitcher Taylor McQuillin, who earned the win, said. “It’s a different feeling. I think we had to get used to it pretty quick. But I think we did a pretty good job of doing that today. Dejah came up in the big moment and we got the key outs when needed in the eighth inning.”
Washington pitcher Taran Alvelo pitched a complete game and struck out 11, but the third-seeded Huskies (50-8) failed her by leaving nine runners on base. She had two wins against the Wildcats during the regular season.
“I mean, it’s postseason,” Alvelo said. “It’s a whole different kind of ballgame when you go into postseason. I mean, it was an eight-inning game. There were a lot of good pitches in a lot of good spots. Sometimes, things just don’t fall your way.”
Arizona entered the World Series ranked second in the nation with 106 home runs. The Wildcats added to their total when Jessie Harper hit her nation-leading 29th of the season to put Arizona up 1-0 in the sixth inning.
Just as soon as McQuillin stepped into the circle with the lead, she lost it. Washington’s Sami Reynolds, a freshman from Snohomish, took her first pitch in the bottom of the sixth over the fence to tie the score.
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McQuillin embraced all that came with the home run.
“This is it, we’re in a game now,” she said. “This is the big moment. We’ve got to handle the pressure and take it and run with it.”
In the seventh, Washington’s Amirah Milloy and Sis Bates both beat out throws to first for infield singles to put two on with one out, but McQuillin escaped.
Now, Arizona plays UCLA or Minnesota on Friday for the right to play in the semifinals on Sunday.
Washington gets a day off before playing in an elimination game Saturday.
“Yeah, you got to take a hit, recover,” Washington coach Heather Tarr said. “We’re not happy. But we’ll get over it. Get another game to play Saturday.”