After claiming the 2019 NCAA Oxford Regional, the Ole Miss softball team heads to Tucson, Arizona, for their second Super Regional appearance in program history.
The Rebels will face the 45-12 Arizona Wildcats in a best-of-three series starting Friday afternoon. The Wildcats entered the tournament as a No. 6 seed and went 3-0 in their regional with wins over Harvard and Auburn.
While softball has gained a nice following in Oxford with Mike Smith guiding the Rebels to four-straight NCAA Tournaments, the program has been a staple at Arizona for decades. The Wildcat softball team has not missed the tournament since 1987 and have advanced to Super Regionals every year for the past 15 years except 2013.
Mike Candrea has been the driving force behind the run, serving as head coach 1986. He has eight Women’s College World Series wins and 11 conference titles show for it.
It’s been more of the same for the Wildcats in 2019. The squad boasts a 12-9 record against ranked teams this season. Molly Jacobsen and Brittany Finney will face one of the most explosive offenses in the country, with 103 home runs as a team. Jessie Harper leads the team and the nation with 28 homers to go with her 68 RBIs and .353 batting average.
“I think the game is probably going to be won or lost on defense,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Smith said. “Can our pitchers contain their hitters. Can we get on base and create a little havoc on the bases and put a little pressure on them. I think the matchup is going to be good.”
The players traveled to Tucson on Wednesday and have been able to practice at the Arizona facilities to get used to the run of the grass and work out the bounce of the ball.
Arizona ace Taylor McQuillin will have the guidance of pitching coach Taryne Mowatt, who coached at Ole Miss for two years before returning to her alma mater. Mowatt helped Smith lead the Rebels to their first ever NCAA tournament and SEC Championship during her time in Oxford. Now she’ll be coaching to prevent the Rebels from earning their first bid to the Women’s College World Series.
“We would inter-squad a lot and she would call pitches against us,” senior Kylan Becker said. “I definitely know how she likes to attack me. She knows what I like, she knows what I don’t like. So it’s kind of just going to be a fair match.”
Becker will look to continue her performance from the Oxford Regional as she pulled out highlight after highlight while bringing her batting average up to .426.
Molly Jacobsen or Brittany Finney will start in the circle for the Rebels. Finney pitched two shutouts in the regional while Jacobsen shut down a Louisiana lineup that was used to scoring runs at will. The pitchers’ said experience against SEC hitting every weekend helped them gain confidence over the season.
“We’ve played so many great teams that have offenses like that,” Finney said. “We’ve faced the top hitters in the nation and I think that’s really prepared us continue our season past Arizona.”
Both pitchers said they want the ball to start the game, but will continue to support each other no matter who’s in the circle.
“If it’s her, I’ve got her back. I think we’ve just grown really close this year,” Jacobsen said. “We’re a pitching staff. It can’t just take one person, it takes all five of us, honestly. Whoever gets the ball, we’re just going to back them up.”
The Rebels only need two more wins to punch their ticket to the first Women’s College World Series in program history.
The series opener on Friday is scheduled for a 6 p.m and will be broadcast on ESPNU. Game two will start at 7 p.m. on Saturday and a third game begin at 7 p.m. on Sunday if necessary.