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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Softball opens Pac-10 play vs. Sun Devils

For the Arizona softball team, hitting the beginning of the Pacific 10 Conference schedule is a perfect measuring stick, a way to learn where the team lies and how much it must improve.

Playing the No. 10 ASU Sun Devils (31-4) in Tempe to begin that schedule just allows the No. 2 Wildcats (28-3) to break into the Pac-10 season with a little more pop. The rivals will play today and tomorrow at 7 p.m. with the series finale coming Saturday at 1 p.m.

“”It’s a great environment to begin conference play, because it’s a great rivalry and the place will be packed,”” said head coach Mike Candrea. “”I think it’ll be a lot of fun.””

Arizona and ASU are tied as the top-scoring teams in the nation, averaging 8.26 runs per game. The next closest team is Florida at 7.67 runs per game.

And with an offense even with the Sun Devils, the name of the game becomes quite simple.

“”You have to match them pitch-for-pitch,”” Candrea said. “”Obviously, they’re a good offensive team one-through-nine, and I feel that we can be. We’re going to go out and play Arizona softball.””

And there’s no doubt the Sun Devils will be gunning for Arizona. Last season, the Wildcats swept ASU 3-0. The season before that, ASU swept the Wildcats en route to its first-ever national championship in softball.

“”We definitely have a rivalry with them, especially since they beat us all three games last year,”” ASU first baseman Mandy Urfer told the Arizona Republic. “”We’re definitely going to come out and show it and bring them everything we’ve got, because we were very upset from last year.””

Along with a potentially explosive offensive show, the pitching match-up will be intriguing as well.

ASU ace Hillary Bach struggled against the Wildcats last season in her freshman campaign, giving up 20 runs to Arizona in two of the three contests — 19 of which were earned runs.

But this year, Bach is off to a hot start, boasting a 15-1 record and a 1.26 ERA.

“”I just heard she improved her drop ball,”” said UA shortstop K’Lee Arredondo, a native of Tempe whose family has 40 tickets for each of the three games at ASU’s Farrington Stadium. “”We’ll look for (the drop balls), kind of see what she throws the first time around, and we’ll adjust the second time around.””

Bach’s counterpart, Arizona ace Kenzie Fowler, has turned in perhaps a more impressive season. She’s gone 18-2 with a 0.71 ERA in her freshman year.

Fowler’s not the only contributor from the freshman class for the Wildcats.

Freshman third baseman Brigette Del Ponte is third on the team with a .405 batting average, is tied for first with 11 home runs and leads the team with 45 RBIs. That’s not to mention her nation-leading 1.55 RBIs per game.

Fowler and Del Ponte’s presence has given Candrea no reason to be concerned with youngsters facing their first Pac-10 opponent.

“”There’s going to be some excitement and some nerves. That’s part of the game,”” Candrea said. “”For the most part, from what I’ve seen, they react pretty good in those situations.

“”It may be a good thing for us.””

A new Pac-10 schedule

The Pac-10 has implemented a new schedule format for softball this year, giving teams three-game series each weekend against a single opponent.

In the past, teams would play a two-game series against one opponent and then travel to play a single game against another. Candrea said he likes the 2010 format.

“”I think it’s good. It eliminated the UCLA-Washington trip, which is a big thing,”” he said. “”It’s adds a different challenge playing someone three days in a row. “”

But three games against one team also allows more time for adjustments, especially to the opposing pitcher.

“”It’s good for the hitters for our team,”” Arredondo said. “”By the third day we know their pitchers.

It’s still a two-way street, though.

“”They know our pitching by that third day too,”” Arredondo added.

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