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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Softball fields five in Calif.

Arizona softball head coach Mike Candrea expects some losses.

But like all games, what his players take away from those losses is more important than the team’s record.

The Wildcats (7-1) are coming off a loss to No. 5 Missouri and facing five tough teams at the Cathedral City Classic tournament in Cathedral City, Calif., today through Sunday.

“”It’s early,”” Candrea said of Arizona’s first defeat. “”It’s part of the process.

“”That (loss) doesn’t bother me,”” he added. “”What bothers me (is) if you don’t take the time to evaluate your performance and then start working on things with purpose in practice.””

With freshmen Baillie Kirker, Matte Haack and Brigette Del Ponte getting major playing time in the infield, the experience of taking on No. 25 Brigham Young University and No. 21 Fresno State on Friday will become invaluable come postseason time. The Wildcats will face Cal Poly and Hawaii on Saturday, finishing the weekend with a Sunday morning finale against a strong Baylor University squad.

“”It’s easier to grab their attention when they’re playing tough people,”” Candrea said.

“”They play the way the game is really going to be rather than playing against someone who’s throwing fatties down the middle of the plate.””

Senior pitcher Sarah Akamine said that playing a field of highly regarded teams helps the Wildcats stay humble enough to improve. Once the squad hits its always-rigorous Pacific 10 Conference schedule, it won’t have the time to learn from mistakes.

So the 10-5 loss to Missouri in the second game of a double-header Sunday is an important learning opportunity.

“”I think we have to hit a bottom point to get up where we need to,”” said Akamine, who struggled in the circle and was pulled after 2 2/3 innings. “”That was such a tough loss for me, especially. I think we’re going to bounce back from that and (it will) make us stronger.””

Behind Akamine, the Wildcat defense struggled to make plays and made poor decisions that led to early first-inning runs. Making plays should be second nature for a college-level team, but the Wildcats were second-guessing themselves.

And even during Arizona’s 5-0 win in its first game against the Tigers, Candrea said there was room for improvement.

“”Offensively, I thought we struggled,”” he said, “”but Baillie (Kirker) happened to put two balls out of the ballpark at the right time.””

Candrea will use the early part of the season to give his youngsters playing time, but all while playing top-25 or near-top-25 talent. All five of Arizona’s competitors this weekend are either ranked or have earned votes in the two major softball polls.

For Del Ponte, who played third and second base last weekend — and who has never practiced at second before Candrea threw her in — the freshman butterflies are gone. Now, she’s focusing on helping the team.

“”We’re just playing to play now,”” she said.

Del Ponte and her teammates will be playing skilled offensive teams ready to knock off No. 2 Arizona. Candrea said that gaining experience is just what his team needs, and that it will help his team learn where it needs to improve.

“”A big part of the process is evaluating each week and being able to evaluate your performance,”” he said. “”Then, come out and work on your performance and perform the next week.””

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