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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Pressure is mounting

Pressure+is+mounting

When the Arizona softball team begins its season on Thursday, it will have been 247 days since Kenzie Fowler and the Wildcats walked off the field in defeat.

That’s 247 days to live with the memory of a two-game sweep at the hands of UCLA in the championship series of the Women’s College World Series.

Reliving the fly ball that could have ended Game 1 with an Arizona victory and swung the tide of the best-of-three series.

Reliving a freshman ace’s effort to carry the team on her right arm, throwing more than 800 pitches in a span of six days.

That’s 247 days for Mike Candrea’s mind to re-work, re-tool and re-load Arizona’s roster to solve the Wildcats’ glaring problem — the depth of the bullpen.

That was the 2010 season.

But in just two days, the Kajikawa Classic brings new opportunity for a refreshed and replenished Arizona team to take the field — four days of finding out who this Wildcat team is going to be early on in the season.

There are 93 days of the regular season, plenty of time for a talented 2011 squad to display exactly what it has to offer this year.

And they’ve got all the necessary ingredients to do it, too.

For starters, there’s Fowler’s new pitching technique, designed to increase her longevity throughout the season.

Her backup, freshman pitcher Shelby Babcock, equally dangerous and equally powerful who will earn her own time in the circle this year.  

The Wildcats also garnered notoriety at the beginning of the season, picked No. 1 in the ESPN/USA Softball pre-season poll and slated to be winners of the Pacific 10 Conference in 93 days.

Eight returning starters, seven of whom notched All-Pac-10 nods last season, poised and ready to get back to the place Arizona hasn’t been since 2007 — champions at the end of the season.

There’s also the wild card of five freshmen, with talents yet to be discovered, impacts yet to be felt.

The returning bats of Brittany Lastrapes, Stacie Chambers and Lini Koria, who combined for 54 home runs last season, will lead the Wildcats in the box and out of the yard.

But this season isn’t about what the Wildcats can do — it’s about what, exactly, their limit will be.

The Wildcats have threatened to go all the way a few times in recent years, but there has always been a breaking point — missing Candrea’s leadership in 2008, a one-and-done appearance in 2009 and a series that went sour in 2010.

With the 2011 season on the brink of starting, the one glaring thing this year’s Wildcats lack is a breaking point — and that could be the final missing aspect that brings a ninth national championship back to Tucson.

To reach the pinacle of college softball, they’ll have to balance all the ups and downs of the season, the injuries, and the tough calls.

They’ll have to fight through a Kajikawa Classic that offers much tougher competition than last year’s and survive four invitational tournaments, two that are out of the confines of Hillenbrand Stadium.

They’ll have to navigate through an always competitive Pac-10 schedule, playing at Stanford and at UCLA.

They’ll have to push through Regionals, Super Regionals and finally back once again to the championshp series where they’ll have to outlast seven other teams for seven days.

If the Wildcats can put their limits aside and let the talent take over, they’ll have only 120 days left to wait.

— Nicole Dimtsios is a journalism junior. She can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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