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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona softball cruises into NCAA Regional Championship

The Arizona softball team is inching closer to familiar postseason territory, moving into the NCAA Regional championship today game behind a 7-2 win over Notre Dame at Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium Saturday afternoon.

The win, Arizona’s 37th of the season, was more of a traditional nature than the 11-0 victory over North Dakota State on Friday.

Similar to Friday’s game, Arizona got off to a quick start thanks to junior Brigette Del Ponte. After Notre Dame’s starting pitcher Laura Winter forced the first two Wildcat batters to hit directly into Irish gloves, Del Ponte blasted the third pitch she saw over the left field wall for a 1-0 lead, once again echoing head coach Mike Candrea’s season-long motto to be the aggressor.

“I think we’re playing very inspired softball right now,” Candrea said. “We have some kids that are giving us quality at bats. We’re setting the table and then Brigette has been hotter than a firecracker. Things are good, but we’ve got a long ways to go.”

Seniors Kristen Arriola and Karissa Buchanan also found the opportunity to shine. In two postseason games, Buchanan has hit .786 on 11-14 hitting and Arriola, along with her six RBI performance Friday added another two hits and a run to her weekend tally.

The ability for the Wildcats to succeed at the plate has been key for the team. In Saturday’s game, Shelby Pendley came up hobbling after an attempted throwout from shallow left field to first base.

“Pendley, that kid is giving us everything she’s got right now,” Candrea said. “Most kids wouldn’t be able to do what she’s doing right now. She’s having severe lower back problems right now. We’re just trying to keep her together. I think the thing that she needs is rest and recovery, but she doesn’t want it.”

Kenzie Fowler got the start for Arizona and did not disappoint, striking out two of her six total strikeouts in the first inning, but similar to junior pitcher Shelby Babcock’s performance Friday, did not walk one Notre Dame batter.

“We started off with the lead, and then we kept that lead the whole game,” Fowler said. “As a pitcher, that’s awesome. I felt like I was pitching freely. It felt good out there; it was a fun win today for all of us.”

Arizona has had many inconsistencies throughout the 2012 season, but almost none more than Fowler. She has battled numerous injuries and illnesses over the course of the season, which has affected not only her pitching, but her confidence as well. Candrea attributes her reemergence as an ace pitcher to his assistants.

“I really tip my hat off to Alicia Hollowell and Stacy Iveson,” Candrea said. “They’re very positive people that I think have been good for our pitchers. In this game, you kind of have to stick with it, and as long as they stick with it mentally, it’s really easy to stick with it as a coach. It’s just a matter of them helping themselves sometimes.”

Despite Fowler’s ability to keep most of the Irish from crossing the plate, Fowler found herself in many situations in which Notre Dame had one or two players in scoring position. However, she held her ground to the tune of seven Irish batters left on base, to the chagrin of Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf.

“We didn’t do anything in that game well enough to win,” Gumpf said. “We were threatening a lot; we didn’t do much with it. I think she (Fowler) did a lot of things well. She got outs when she needed to get outs.”

One could attribute that Notre Dame’s lackluster performance was due to fatigue, after playing extra innings in Friday’s contest against Hawaii, in a much warmer climate than their campus in South Bend, Ind., but Irish players disagree.

“We were well prepared, hydrated wise, it really had no effect on us at all,” Notre Dame pitcher Brittany O’Donnell said. “We just have to fight back, if they get one we have to come back and get two.”

Arizona will have a rematch with the North Dakota State Bison at 2:30 p.m. today to advance to the super regional round of the NCAA tournament.

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