LOS ANGELES — When it comes to college softball, the Arizona-UCLA rivalry is second to none.
The powerhouse programs have combined to win 19 of the 35 Women’s College World Series titles all time; they’ve met in the WCWS Championship Finals seven times.
After winning the Tucson Regional, the No. 14-seeded Wildcats are set to play in their fifth consecutive Super Regional — this time in Los Angeles against the third-ranked Bruins. The best-of-three series starts Thursday at 6 p.m.
This is the first postseason meeting between both programs since 2010, when Arizona finished as WCWS runner-up.
“A lot of history, tradition. It’s kind of like our rivalry between us and ASU — you just hate them,” senior Ashleigh Hughes said. “So, every time we meet, it’s just a clash of a lot of history and a lot of competition.”
The Wildcats know UCLA is a formidable team, but their biggest obstacle will be the Bruins’ ace, Rachel Garcia. The sophomore was named to the 2018 USA Softball National Team World Championship roster; she has a 30-3 record in the circle this season.
Three games. Three wins. A Tucson Regional title.
And a date with UCLA in the Supers.
— Arizona Softball (@ArizonaSoftball) May 21, 2018
One of her losses came in Saturday’s regionals. Cal State Fullerton stunned the Bruins 3-2 in nine innings, pushing the hosts into the loser’s bracket. UCLA rallied, winning again on Saturday and twice on Sunday to advance.
UCLA will continue to ride Garcia through the Super Regionals, but she may not be as fresh after pitching five games in three days. Garcia threw 501 pitches over the three days.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, won their regional championship in three games. Coach Mike Candrea had wanted to rest ace Taylor McQuillin the third day, but a hiccup in the plans — starter Alyssa Denham faltered — forced McQuillin back into the circle. Still, McQuillin threw only 275 pitches in the three-game set.
Arizona slugger Jessie Harper said the team will be OK if it can figure out how to hit against Garcia.
“I think she’s a very smart pitcher,” Harper said. “She works well to get ahead and when she is ahead she can play with you a little bit, but I have confidence in our team that we’re going to be able to hit her.”
McQuillin, meanwhile, will try to slow down a Bruins team that swept the UA in Tucson last month.
“I think this weekend is going to be maintaining everything that I’ve done throughout the season,” McQuillin said. “I’m not going to change my routine now; I’m going to keep rolling with it.”
— UCLA Softball (@UCLASoftball) May 24, 2018
Past results may not matter, UA players and coaches say, because the Wildcats are a different team than they were in April. At the time they last played UCLA, the Cats were coming off a rough road trip at Oregon, where the Ducks swept and outscored the Wildcats 23-2. It was a low point in Arizona’s roller-coaster season.
Now, Arizona is two wins away from advancing to the Women’s College World Series.
“I think this weekend for sure is going to be completely different,” first baseman Alyssa Palomino said. “They don’t know what we can do. They haven’t seen our best team, and I think it’s going to be a better battle this time.”
This article is written by Norma Gonzalez from The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.