Two games are better than none.
That’s the gratuitous attitude Arizona softball is taking as it gears up to host Cal in a shortened series this weekend. The Golden Bears will be returning to action for the first time since April 11 after COVID-19 issues forced them to cancel 12 straight games.
“We settled on two games because that’s all they can play with, I guess, the amount of players that they have that are able to play,” Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said. “At this stage, and what we’ve been through, it’s kind of hard to play hardball with people. You’ve got to have a little compassion for what they’re going through and whatever they suggested that they could do was better than none, so we figured we’d play two games, and play one on Saturday, one on Sunday.”
It’s the first time Arizona has had any games canceled due to COVID-19 this season, though they have had six called off due to weather.
“Our team has been really taking a lot of pride in taking care of ourselves and taking care of each other and just protecting our bubble,” said redshirt freshman catcher Sharlize Palacios. “I mean, it’s really important to us. Our goals are very important to us, to get to the World Series and our best chance is to always be healthy and take care of ourselves outside of the field.”
The Wildcats (31-8, 9-5 Pac-12) are preparing for the modified series like any other series except they will scrimmage Friday to make up for the lost games. All four of their rotation pitchers will face live batters. One could argue that will do Arizona’s lineup more good than playing the Golden Bears (16-12, 3-6) anyway. Cal is seventh in the nine-team Pac-12.
Especially since Arizona has Taylor McQuillin in its arsenal. The former UA ace is helping the Wildcats as a graduate assistant while she prepares to play for Mexico in the 2021 Olympics.
“It’s a win-win for both of us when we need someone else to throw live at game speed and we have a lefty that does a pretty good job with that,” Candrea said.
The Wildcats scored 35 runs in a four-game sweep of Utah last weekend, but Candrea said they are still working on being aggressive, and smart, at the plate.
“There’s a fine line there,” he said. “We continue to do our defensive work. I mean, the things that we do throughout the year, it always goes back to the fundamentals of the game, but from here on out it’s really about preparing yourself for game speed as much as possible and I think that’s been our goal.”
Even Arizona’s batting practice replicates game speed these days. The Wildcats switched to live pitching instead of having someone, as Candrea says, “throw fatties down the middle of the plate.”
“I think it’s really helpful for us,” Palacios said. “Sometimes batting practice can make you feel good all the time, but sometimes you don’t want to feel good because on the weekend you’re not going to feel good 24-7. Just being able to see pitches come by with movement and different speeds, the pitchers are trying to beat us and we’re trying to beat the pitchers, so it’s good competition to get us ready for the weekend and kind of get our minds right on our strike zone, what we want to hit and what we’re feeling good with.”
That’s key considering the Cal series is Arizona’s last tune-up before they face No. 8 Oregon and No. 2 UCLA to wrap up the regular season.
“I mean, two games are better than none,” Palacios said, “but I think the main thing going into the end of Pac and then going into playoffs is just to get ourselves confident and get ourselves rolling with some wins.”
Arizona has won 28 straight at Hillenbrand Stadium dating back to last season, but is only 9-8 on the road this year.
“I think we just go in with a different type of swagger when we’re at home, and we practice there, we get all our reps in there so it’s kind of a comfortable place for us,” Palacios said. “But I think we’re on the way of learning how to work on the road…and I think Oregon is going to be a really good test for us for that.”