In 1988, the Pac-10 Conference was in just its second year of sponsoring softball. Three-time national champions UCLA were the obvious headliners for the league on the softball diamond, and Arizona State had joined the Bruins in representing the conference at the Women’s College World Series a year earlier, in 1987.
Down in Tucson, Arizona, a young man named Mike Candrea was in his third season at the helm of the Arizona Wildcats’ softball team. The ‘Cats had hired Candrea away from Central Arizona College prior to the 1986 season, when they still competed in the Pacific West Conference, and had won just 27 games that first year. In 1987, the program went 42-18 and qualified for the NCAA tournament.
Then came the ’88 season. The Wildcats started the year on an 8-game winning streak, eventually finishing the regular season with nearly fifty wins and were selected to host the Tucson regional in the NCAA tournament. Suzie Lady led the team with an even .300 batting average during the season, and the team hit just four home runs – all of them coming off the bat of senior Jamie Wheat.
Senior Teresa Cherry led the Wildcats’ pitching staff with 301.1 innings pitched, allowed just 22 earned runs and collected a 32-11 win-loss record from the circle. She would go on to become the first Wildcat to be named an All-American under Candrea’s tutelage.
At the World Series, then held in Sunnyvale, California, Candrea’s squad went 2-2, winning their opening game by a score of 1-0 over Adelphi and besting Cal Poly Pomona 4-1. The Wildcats then lost to UCLA 5-0, and later to Fresno State by a score of 4-0 to end their stay in Sunnyvale.
Three years later, in 1991, the Wildcats won their first WCWS title, and have won a total of eight national championships under Candrea. The sport’s all-time leader in wins at the Division I level, Candrea’s team has appeared in the NCAA tournament every year since 1987, a streak more than three decades strong.