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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Softball update: Cats come home, wrap up Oklahoma win”

    Arizona softball players gather together to sing Bear Down after winning the schools seventh softball national title by beating Northwestern in two games.
    Arizona softball players gather together to sing Bear Down after winning the schools’ seventh softball national title by beating Northwestern in two games.

    The national champion Arizona softball team made its triumphant return and partied like it’s 2001, or half of the 1990s decade, as the Wildcats celebrated the program’s seventh title in 15 years in front of about 2,000 fans in McKale Center.

    Few students appeared to be among the faithful followers, which former women’s basketball forward Anna Chappell attributed to the fact that “”nobody’s here.””

    Those in attendance watched the last 45 minutes of the clinching game on the Jumbotron before the squad marched into the arena in style after receiving a police escort and limousine ride back to campus.

    After a five-year title “”drought,”” senior pitcher Alicia Hollowell proudly hoisted the national championship trophy to the ovation of the crowd.

    “”We’re not done, this is just the beginning,”” Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said. “”We expect to be where we’re at every year.””

    The team was introduced and all the seniors spoke shortly, with a brief interjection via telephone from Gov. Janet Napolitano congratulating them on this achievement.

    After the 2005 seniors became the first class since Arizona’s first championship in 1991 to leave Tucson without a title, Candrea was excited to start a new class championship streak.

    “”One of the greatest thing as a coach you hope for is that your seniors come out on top,”” he said.

    Likins going out in style

    Much has changed during Arizona President Peter Likins’ nine-year tenure, but at least one constant remains from his arrival to his impending departure later this month.

    “”I don’t know if you remember,”” Candrea said to Likins, “”We brought you in with a national championship, and we’re sending you off with one.””

    Likins was inaugurated in the summer of 1997, soon after the softball team won their fifth of seven titles.

    “”For me, it’s a wonderful way to celebrate the end of my presidency,”” Likins said.


    Championship Softball Notes

    National champions wrap up successful week, season
    By Mike Ritter

    OKLAHOMA CITY- Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said that even though senior ace Alicia Hollowell won the award for the Women’s College World Series’ Most Outstanding Player, the coaching staff’s overall team MVP vote went to sophomore catcher Callista Balko.

    In baseball, catchers typically do not play more than five days a week due to all of the physical constraints the job entails. For the Arizona softball team, Balko caught every inning of the 2006 season, and Candrea had no plans to use another catcher.

    “”We were one injury away from devastation with this team,”” Candrea said. “”I would have thrown (freshman first baseman Sam) Banister back there. I tried (freshman first baseman) Laine Roth, and she was crying. She didn’t like it.””

    He went on to say that Balko got some of the biggest hits of the year for the team that helped propel them to their seventh national championship, including in the 2-0 victory against three-time national player of the year Cat Osterman and the Texas Longhorns, which Candrea thought was the turning point for his team.

    “”Every year you go through those games where you have that one huge game,”” Candrea said. “”Callista Balko’s base hit against Texas beating Osterman was huge, because it put us in the right position.””

    Balko said her success means more because of her early season struggles.

    “”That was what kept me up all night the other night,”” she said. “”That’s why I worked so hard – just for that one hit to keep us in the game. It felt really good.””

    Balko finished with a .270 batting average and ranked second on the team in both home runs and RBIs, with 13 and 44, respectively, as Arizona’s cleanup hitter.

    “”You can have a great pitching staff, but without her it wouldn’t work,”” Candrea said.

    Chance for a repeat in 2007?

    Candrea said he learned a lot about coaching this year.

    It might have even been the best he’s ever coached- and he plans to get better.

    “”I will approach this next group in a little different manner, and I will expect even more out of those that are coming back,”” he said. “”Don’t think that the wheels may not fall off with a few of them because they have a long ways to go.””

    Hollowell, left fielder Autumn Champion, pitcher Leslie Wolfe and pinch runner Kelly Nelson have used up their eligibility.

    Champion will remain enrolled in Education classes at Arizona so she can earn her degree. The slap-hitting outfielder may play for the Tucson Heat to continue her Tucson softball legacy.

    Taking the place of Hollowell and Wolfe are pitchers Amanda Williams and Sarah Akamene. Williams is seen as the potential heir to Hollowell, as she’s ranked the No. 1 high school pitcher in the country out of Freedom High near San Francisco, hoping to continue the tradition of great Arizona pitching.

    “”Amanda is going to be a very good pitcher at this level,”” Candrea said.

    Taking the place of Champion is left-handed hitter Stacy Chambers, but Candrea noted that replacing Champion is a little tough to fathom.

    “”Autumn left this place playing so well,”” Candrea said. “”We’re going to miss her. You don’t replace four years in a year, that’s very seldom.

    “”There will be a little bit of competition. We have the potential of being good. Depends on how well (assistant coach) Nancy (Evans) does with the young pitchers.””

    Lucky No. 7

    Candrea is a firm believer in omens, to say the least.

    Last week, he saved a receipt from a fast food restaurant because his food order was No. 1.

    Before Monday’s game, during the introduction of the All-WCWS softball team, Candrea wore a No. 7 jersey, not for his hero Mickey Mantle, but to signify his eventual seventh national championship.

    Leaving the team hotel for the final game, Candrea said he thought it would be Arizona’s day because on the elevator down to the lobby, the first stop was at floor seven.

    “”But then I looked down at my watch and it was the sixth,”” Candrea said. “”So I was thinking, ‘Oh (no).'””

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