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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Rock Steady

    Arizona catcher Callista Balko preps to return a pitch in a 13-1 win over Oregon State on Sunday at Hillenbrand Stadium. Balko, a senior, has been consistent for the Wildcats behind the dish, with a bat and in a leadership role.
    Arizona catcher Callista Balko preps to return a pitch in a 13-1 win over Oregon State on Sunday at Hillenbrand Stadium. Balko, a senior, has been consistent for the Wildcats behind the dish, with a bat and in a leadership role.

    During the 2006 and 2007 softball seasons, there was one name in the Arizona starting lineup that the public address announcer would say before each and every game.

    “”Doing the catching for Arizona, No. 15, Callista Balko.””

    For two consecutive seasons Balko caught every pitch for Arizona – a string of 905 consecutive innings that was broken at the beginning of this season – and was an invaluable contributor to the Wildcats’ back-to-back national championship victories.

    “”She’s just the rock,”” said UA interim head coach Larry Ray. “”She’s the backbone of this team, even on days when she’s not real strong at the plate, she gives us leadership behind the plate and somebody that we can count on really pitch by pitch.””

    Balko, a product of Tucson’s Canyon del Oro High School, had always eyed attending Arizona and was honored when UA head coach Mike Candrea started recruiting her.

    “”I’ve always been the kind of person that whatever happens happens, and I’m not going to try to force something,”” Balko said. “”But coach (Candrea) happened to see me in a few games and I played well and I was lucky enough to get recruited.””

    Balko dominated in high school, as she owns the CDO record in home runs, stolen bases and triples, while also being named the CDO Female Athlete of the Year in 2004 and the softball team’s Most Valuable Player in 2002 and 2003.

    While her offense is always appreciated – she is third on the team in home runs – her teammates rely on Balko’s defense and leadership to help lead them to another possible trip to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series.

    “”She’s a very vocal person on the field and that’s what I think the catcher needs to be,”” said senior pitcher Taryne Mowatt. “”They need to be the loudest person on the field and tell everybody where to be and know what the batter is capable of. And for myself personally, I know what she is going to do in certain situations and I know how she is going to catch the ball.

    “”It’s hard to find a leader … because when you do step up as a leader, you’re throwing yourself out there,”” Mowatt added. “”And Callista has always been the vocal leader on the field and just having her back there every pitch has been her biggest influence on this team.””

    After the near defeat to Oregon State on Saturday, Balko displayed her vocal leadership when she and the other upperclassmen gave a pep talk to the rest of the team to get the competitive juices flowing. The following game, Arizona run-ruled the Beavers 13-1 in five innings.

    “”We tried to pump (them) up and give (them) a pep talk,”” Balko said. “”Sometimes you have to change your personality on the field. You can still be a competitor and have class, but you still have to be a competitor. You have to compete. You can’t be nice. Sometimes you have to put that fire into everybody instead of everybody being so passive (you have to) get out and be aggressive.””

    Freshman left fielder Brittany Lastrapes, who took over in the leadoff spot for the graduated Caitlin Lowe, is glad to have Balko behind the plate.

    “”Callie is really positive all the time,”” Lastrapes said. “”Even when she’s not doing her best – or if she is doing her best – you would never know because she is always there for us. She tells us she has a lot of confidence in us as a team and that really feeds to the younger girls. When she is solid back there it helps Taryne and helps us defensively. I’m glad she’s there.””

    Balko is just glad to be competing at something she loves, even if it is starting to wear on her physically.

    “”It’s senior year, I’m feeling (soreness) a little bit,”” she said. “”I’ve started noticing things a little more and before I’ve had no problem, but now I’m just starting to feel a little more tight and I have to stretch more.””

    Many college athletes never get to experience the euphoria of winning a national championship, yet Balko has done it twice.

    “”(Winning a championship was) unbelievable,”” she said. “”To win one is a once in a lifetime opportunity, but twice in a lifetime is unheard of.””

    Even though the season has not been as smooth as the Wildcats’ preseason No. 1-ranked and defending back-to-back national champions would have liked, Balko believes that there is no reason that the Wildcats can’t make it a third in a row.

    “”We are very capable,”” she said. “”We just have to believe in each other.””

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