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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Trio of Wildcats keeping softball dangerous on basepaths

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Gordon Bates
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat UA Softball vs Sandiego

The nuances of any team are what always seem to be the defining factor between the champion, and everyone else.

The Arizona softball program already has championship caliber pitching. The hitting, which is a problem at times, has picked up as the season winds down, and the Wildcats are strong defensively, holding opposing teams to a .202 batting average this season.

The special quality in this case is the overlooked skillset of Arizona’s trio of talented base runners, junior Brigette Del Ponte, redshirt freshman Chelsea Suitos and senior Karissa Buchanan, who combine for 36 of the team’s 44 stolen bases on the season and have only been caught stealing twice, a 95 percent success rate.

“Those are the kids that can run,” head coach Mike Candrea said. “If we have a catcher that doesn’t have a really good throw-out percentage, then we’ll take some chances.”

The process seems simple enough, but considering the Pac-12 Conference boasts six of the nation’s top 25 teams, Wildcat base runners are successfully stealing from some of the toughest competition in America.

“To get a steal at any type of college level is pretty good, especially considering the catchers that we’ve faced,” Del Ponte said.

Apart from speed and a good leadoff, Arizona base runners have to be smart, and so does Candrea, the man giving them the signal.

“I do a lot by gut feeling more than anything,” Candrea said. “When it comes to steals, you have to get kids that get good jumps, they won’t get called for leaving early, but that are right on the border line, and that they’re good aggressive sliders, and that have some speed. The situation dictates it too. There’s a lot to think about.”

Once Buchanan, Del Ponte, or Suitos are on base they immediately look over to Candrea, the third base coach, whose responsibility is to inform the base runners whether to steal, stay at a base or continue running, and alerts the current batter as to how to get the men on base into scoring position.

“I’m waiting for a sign from him, and I know that I am fast and he does want me to steal,” Buchanan said. “Getting the extra base is pretty crucial, because then you’re in that position to score if someone just hits it past the infield.”

Getting runners into scoring position on a consistent basis has worked for the Wildcats, as they sit in the top 20 nationally in scoring, averaging 5.88 runs per game. The key to Arizona’s base running success, however, is passion.

“Base running is my favorite part of the game,” Del Ponte said. “I like stealing. Every time I’m on first, I always want coach to steal me, every single time. I love the feeling and the excitement and all that. I’m very confident.”

The confidence Candrea puts in his base runners, apart from their natural skills, is the reason the Wildcats have been able to steal bases this season almost flawlessly.

“For the most part, you can look at a team and see who has a success rate and you better be alert that they may be running at any given time,” Candrea said. “If it’s there, I kind of look at the risk/reward, and if the risk is lower than the reward, then we’ll go for it.”

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