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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

After two years, Arizona softball’s No. 1 pitching spot a competition

Two-time All-American Kenzie Fowler was not only the Wildcats’ best pitcher, but also their best player entering the 2012 season. But with the emergence of pitcher Shelby Babcock, Fowler might have to do what would have been unthinkable at the beginning of the season — worry about losing her spot at the top of the rotation.

Fowler has been the unquestioned No. 1 pitcher since landing on campus in 2009, when she helped lead the Wildcats to the brink of an NCAA championship before falling to UCLA. Despite her seemingly effortless ability to confuse and frustrate opposing batters with her pitches, Fowler seems to have taken a step back, and Babcock has capitalized.

Fowler and Babcock have the ability to blow fastballs by batters, leaving them chopping at the air before sitting them back down in the dugout. Both have the ability to lead the team, as Fowler proved when she led Arizona to the aforementioned Women’s College World Series appearance. Babcock is no slouch either, though, as she currently holds a team-best 12-6 record with a 2.22 ERA.

Still, assistant coach Larry Ray, who was the interim head coach while longtime head coach Mike Candrea dealt with health issues last week, has noted Fowler’s confidence and is satisfied with her recent work — including a 9-1 victory over Stanford on Saturday, when Fowler allowed just one run on seven hits.

“She’s definitely on her way back,” Ray said. “She’s experienced some problems, not being able to throw the way she’s capable of. It was encouraging on Saturday. She threw extremely well.”

Babcock has been pitching more due to Fowler’s health problems, such as a back issues early in the season that held her out. Babcock pitched the next game of that series, a doubleheader at Hillenbrand Stadium, and the energetic Arizona defense responded about as well as possible to her.

“I’ve always been the ‘go-to’ pitcher, since high school and little league,” Babcock said. “It feels good to have that feeling again.”

A 9-3 record at the halfway point of the season may be seen like a success for other pitchers, but Fowler has already had such a storied career for the Wildcats that when she gives up six runs against a weaker team, as she did in last week’s loss to New Mexico State and in several losses early in the season, one can only wonder about the psyche of Babcock.

Fowler, the starting pitcher and leader of the team — and maybe the second coming of Jennie Finch in some Arizona softball fans’ minds — has regressed from her usual flame-throwing, take no prisoners approach to the game, and Babcock has moved into the primary role while lowering her ERA to 2.22.

“I think she’ll be able to pull out of it,” Babcock said. “She’s had some injuries and stuff that can be hard to get out of. I like stepping up for my team and being able to be there.”

Despite Fowler’s struggles, Arizona seems to be ticking along as many thought it would when the Wildcats opened the season with a potent mix of youth and experience. Should Fowler return to form, combined with Babcock’s improvements, opponents won’t be afforded the luxury of facing a “No. 2 pitcher.” Instead, they’ll be dealing with two aces.

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