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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Two pieces to the puzzle

    Arizona softball is known for balancing its attack between quality offensive outings and fundamentally sound defensive showings. The pairing between the two is key in head coach Mike Candrea’s plan for the Wildcats return to the Women’s College World Series.

    “”More importantly, with this team, you have to … find the balance between their defensive abilities and their offensive abilities,”” Candrea said. “”We’re going to score some runs but we have to play defense too.””

    Before the UA makes its season debut at Hillenbrand Stadium at the Wildcat Invitational this weekend, here’s a look at its offense, defense and what it will take toget it back to the top of its game this year.

    Swinging the bats

    Arizona’s arsenal consists of many formidable players who can light up the scoreboard. Although not much has changed since previous years with the Wildcat offense, the players have stepped up to meet the standards of coaches and fans.

    “”We pretty much have the same philosophy and try to put our best hitters up as often as possible. Things haven’t changed a whole lot,”” said assistant coach Larry Ray.

    The Arizona offense consists of two parts: players who are fast and players who can hit. This complementary aspect of the lineup allows the Arizona coaching staff to have a scoring system.

    “”We try to have a good combination of power and speed,”” Ray said. “”We’ve got some kids that short game it, that drag and slap, and they’re kind of table setters.””

    The leadoff batter for Arizona is especially important. Left fielder Brittany Lastrapes has provided the Wildcats with the on base presence to keep the lineup rolling. As a freshman last year, she led the team with an on-base percentage of .455.

    The process of separating the lineup between the power and finesse hitters makes it easier to drive in RBIs and give the pitching staff the support it needs.

    “”They get on base and hopefully the kids that swing the bat well can drive them in,”” said Ray. “”That’s kind of our basic philosophy.””

    Although it seems obvious in theory, the execution of the system relies on the players later in the lineup, like junior Stacie Chambers who racked in 49 RBIs last season. The addition of freshmen utility player Lini Koria will also help the Wildcats drive in their fair share of runs this year.

    In the UA’s seven wins this year, the trend has been to score early.

    “”We need to score early and make a statement at the beginning of the game,”” Lastrapes said.

    Not only does this allow some breathing room for the defense, but it also gives pitchers confidence before their half of an inning.

    Veterans backing young pitchers for UA ‘D’

    With the departure of pitcher Taryne Mowatt, the opening assessment of Arizona’s season began with the question about the strength of its pitching staff. Sophomore Lindsey Sisk and junior Sarah Akamine have stepped into the circle to fill the shoes of the Wildcats’ former ace, Mowatt. Because Arizona is a team consistently known for its dynamic pitching, some have doubted its ability to make a postseason run this year.

    However, both Sisk and Akamine have shown they have the ability to limit their opponents scoring chances early on this season. Because the pitching staff is not as dominant in past years, the quality of rest of the Wildcat defense might start to get noticed more.

    “”A lot of people don’t know how good our defense is because we always have strikeout pitchers,”” utility player Sam Banister said, “”So now is our opportunity to show off how good we really are.””

    The outfield falls to younger players in the sophomore duo of Lastrapes in left field and Lauren Schutzler in center field. The question of right field has been open for most of this season falling either on the shoulders of local Sabino graduate, freshman Karissa Buchanan or Banister.

    “”Two of the three outfielders are back and we have a newcomer in right field. Even though they’re both sophomores, they’re pretty experienced players,”” Ray said. Both players had experience from last year, so their youth is not considered a setback for the outfield.

    In contrast to the outfield, Arizona’s infield is littered with familiarity and leadership.

    Seniors Laine Roth and Janae Leles at first and third base, respectively, bring veteran leadership to the infield and power to the plate. Juniors Chambers, another home-run threat, and shortstop K’lee Arredondo give the support to the seniors on the corners. The combined fielding percentage from last season of these four key players is an impressive .962.

    But despite having seniors on the corners and a junior in Arredondo at short stop, Ray said he doesn’t see a discrepancy in the experience level of the infield compared to the outfield, despite the outfielders’ relative youth.

    For the pitching staff, the quality of the defense makes it easier to get through the games. Not only does the leadership come through in the fielding work of the Wildcats, but it also boosts the confidence of the pitchers in terms of what pitch they can throw, and that could help the team earn another Women’s College World Series berth.

    “”It gives me a lot of breathing room. It gives me time to work,”” Akamine said. “”It helps me get more relaxed and be able to trust the pitches because of the team behind me.””

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