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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Softball opens season with Oklahoma State

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Carlos Herrera

Arizona softball outfielder Katiyana Mauga (34) throws the ball back to the pitcher during Arizona’s 13-7 win against New Mexico State at Hillenbrand Stadium on April 23, 2014. Mauga and the Wildcats take on Oklahoma State for a season-opening, three-game series this weekend. 

For the first time since May 18, 2014 Hillenbrand Stadium will be rocking with Arizona softball. The last time the Wildcats played on home soil, fans saw the team dominate in a 13-5 victory over LSU that sent the program to the Super Regionals of the NCAA tournament. 

Since then, Arizona has seen several players leave for various reasons, but most of the core return for another go around. Headlining the returnees are first baseman Hallie Wilson, outfielder Katiyana Mauga, catcher Chelsea Goodacre and shortstop Kellie Fox. The quartet combined for 74 of Arizona’s 109 home runs last season and comprised the middle of the batting order.

Wilson, Goodacre and Fox enter their final season at Arizona as the unquestioned leaders of the team and, along with Mauga, were all named to the USA Softball Player of the Year watch list. 

Arizona went 31-3 last season at home and didn’t lose a home game until Oregon took down the ’Cats 7-3 on May 8. Arizona coach Mike Candrea enters his 30th season at the helm and has the Wildcats ranked 14th in the nation to start the season. 

As the Wildcats take the field on Friday against Oklahoma State for the season-opening, three-game series, the quartet will be expected to lead a team that could struggle on the mound. 

Gone are pitching mainstays Estela Piñon, Kenzie Fowler and Shelby Babcock. The only returnees with pitching experience at Arizona are Nancy Bowling, who struggled last season in nine starts, and Michelle Floyd, who registered just nine total appearances during her true freshman season.
Bowling is expected to anchor the UA pitching staff this season and should show considerable action over the weekend series.
Oklahoma State is no stranger to losing pitchers either; the Cowboys lost workhorse Simone Freeman to graduation. Freeman led the team in wins, appearances, complete games, shutouts, innings pitched, strikeouts and batting average against.

Losing Freeman is huge and should make Oklahoma State’s three games against Arizona that much tougher. 

One consolation is the return of speedy outfielder Shelby Davis. The senior from Kansas tallied a team-high of 41 steals in 46 attempts from the leadoff spot. Davis gave pitchers fits last season with her speed and .435 on-base percentage. 

From Arizona’s side of the diamond, there should be more speed in this year’s projected lineup as it now features speedster Eva Watson in the outfield. Watson replaces the combination of Alex Lavine and Courtney Rodriguez in center field. 

The Wildcats stole just 24 bases last season as a team but hit more than enough home runs to stay afloat throughout the season. Candrea often emphasized smart base running last season but rarely saw the fruits of his lessons. 

As the first pitch of the 2015 season is released around 5 p.m. on Friday, Hillenbrand Stadium will be ready as the Wildcats start their journey toward bringing home the program’s ninth national championship.

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Follow Roberto Payne on Twitter.

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