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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Arizona softball has to improve all-around

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Sally Lugo

Arizona softball utility player Hallie Wilson (5) hits a home run during Arizona’s 8-3 victory over UNLV on March 4 at Hillenbrand Stadium. Wilson and the Wildcats have struggled against top-level talent this season, inciting talk that Arizona needs to improve.

As Arizona softball looks ahead to the start of Pac-12 Conference play this weekend, the Wildcats find themselves in the midst of a mid-season crisis.

Arizona has been thoroughly defeated, both on the mound and at the plate, by nationally ranked, nonconference opponents.

No. 1 Florida shut out the Wildcats 10-0 on Friday, limiting Arizona to just three hits. On the same day, No. 12 Auburn handed the UA its worst loss in program history — a humiliating 20-2 blowout.

A top-ranked Baylor team knocked off Arizona 9-1 just two days later.

Yes, those are just three results, and yes, the Wildcats still boast a 21-6 record on the season.

But for a program that prides itself on being a national title contender year every year, it looks like Arizona may be on its way to missing the Women’s College World Series for a fifth-consecutive season.

The pitching simply isn’t strong enough to shut down top lineups right now. The Wildcats’ offense has similarly struggled to find any success against the game’s best pitchers.

Every Arizona pitcher got knocked around at least once over the weekend at the Judi Garman Classic.

Michelle Floyd and Nancy Bowling each gave up five runs against Florida. Trish Parks only made it through an inning after allowing seven runs against Auburn. Floyd and reliever Siera Phillips didn’t fare any better versus the Tigers.

Baylor also knocked around Floyd and Bowling, who both saw their ERAs jump significantly.

Not to mention, Parks went down with an unknown injury and there are no updates on her status.

Even if the Wildcats had received stronger performances on the mound, the offense didn’t offer enough production to keep games competitive.

The Wildcats went a collective 13-64, a .203 batting average, at the plate against Florida, Baylor and Auburn.

Leadoff hitter Hallie Wilson, the catalyst for the offense, batted .071 (1-14) over five games at the Classic.

Arizona’s pitching was the biggest question mark going into the season. Would the Wildcats find the right combination of hurlers to keep the team in close games?

About midway through the season, the solution looks murky at best.

Floyd leads the staff with a 2.78 ERA, 69 strikeouts and 73 innings pitched. However, she has also allowed 31 walks, more than the other three pitchers combined.

Parks, a freshman, boasts a solid 8-2 record and 3.04 ERA, but she is still acclimating to elite college-level hitting.

Floyd and the understaffed Wildcats will be tested again this weekend when Arizona travels to California to face the Golden Bears, another strong offensive team.

As for the Wildcats’ offense, Arizona still ranks No. 7 nationally in batting average and No. 16 in slugging percentage.

Those numbers, while inflated by an all-around weak slate of opponents, suggest that the UA’s lineup is sufficient, although not nearly as dominant as last season.

With the exception of a few remaining nonconference trips, the competition won’t get any easier for Arizona, which should be taken as a challenge. 

If the Wildcats want to be taken seriously as a Women’s College World Series contender, they’ll need to prove it in the weeks ahead against top-ranked Pac-12 opponents.

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Follow Ezra Amacher on Twitter.

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