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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Softball finding Mowatt’s replacement

    UA pitcher Sarah Akamine (above) tosses the ball toward home plate during Arizonas 8-0 win over then-No. 4 UCLA on April 12, 2008 at Hillenbrand Staduim. Akamine wasnt a full-time pitcher last season, but will team up with Lindsey Sisk (below) to try to replace the production of two-time national champion Taryne Mowatt.
    UA pitcher Sarah Akamine (above) tosses the ball toward home plate during Arizona’s 8-0 win over then-No. 4 UCLA on April 12, 2008 at Hillenbrand Staduim. Akamine wasn’t a full-time pitcher last season, but will team up with Lindsey Sisk (below) to try to replace the production of two-time national champion Taryne Mowatt.

    Throughout his tenure as head coach, Mike Candrea had one constant – a dominating pitcher.

    Taryne Mowatt fit that mold, leading a Wildcat team miraculously through the 2007 College Softball World Series while pitching 60 innings during an eight-day period to secure another Arizona championship.

    Her workload lightened in 2008 and despite a lesser finish to the season, the All-American was clearly one of the better pitchers in the game. But now it’s 2009 and Mowatt has departed, leaving an uncertain cloud over who would be Arizona’s next defensive force.

    Throughout nine games, junior pitcher Sarah Akamine (4-0) and sophomore Lindsey Sisk (3-2) have each gotten starts as Candrea determines how the lineup will shape up. Jennifer Martinez has also played a few innings and is expected to contribute in a starter’s role as well.

    “”Right now, I think it’s up for grabs,”” Candrea said at the beginning of the season. “”I really don’t get too involved in naming a number one or a number two. We’re going to need all three of them throughout the year. Hopefully we’ll end up with three number ones.””

    Sisk comes in as the most experienced pitcher of the three. She started 16 games last year and impressed with a 10-3 record and a team-low 1.62 ERA.

    Meanwhile, Akamine is coming off last year, starting 11 games at second basewhile also serving four games as pitcher.

    “”I think she’s the type of kid that’s going to do whatever she can to help this team,”” Candrea said of Akamine’s willingness to become a full-time pitcher this season. “”She felt like she’s a necessity (at pitcher) for us, and she was willing to step forward and say, ‘I’ll do everything I can to make this happen.’ That’s all you can ask for.””

    Now, it’s just a matter of the pitchers putting their practice resumes into high-intensity games.

    Will they be able to remain focused against the upcoming Pacific 10 Conference powerhouses, as Taryne Mowatt did?

    “”Our pitching is a lot better than our pitchers think they are,”” said senior Sam Banister. “”They just need to go out there and throw, have confidence in themselves. If they throw like they do to us in the scrimmages they’ll be fine, but I think it’s all in their head.””

    During the first weekend of play – the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. – the Wildcats split their games with Akamine winning both of her starts and Sisk losing both of hers. But the difference in the two pitchers was also skewed by their differences in run support.

    The Wildcat’s offense only scored one run in each of Sisk’s losses, while Akamine got help in her two wins, both of which were the second games of doubleheaders. With Akamine, the offense scored seven and eight runs, which could be a result of irritated Wildcat hitters coming off early-morning losses with Sisk in the circle.

    But Candrea has held firm in his philosophy of remaining positive and measuring each players’ progress.

    “”They need to continue to understand the process,”” he said. “”I think it’s just a learning experience that there’s a certain way to play this game. You talk about preparation and they don’t know how to prepare.

    “”(It’s like) hoping you do well on a test instead of making sure you are going to do good on a test,”” Candrea added.

    In the team’s second tournament, the head coach instilled confidence in both Arizona pitchers by allowing each to work through their mistakes.

    Against Illinois, Sisk weathered a storm after giving up three runs in the first inning before finishing the game with a 7-4 win.

    Later in the day, Akamine started strongly and had a 6-2 lead at the bottom of the seventh inning against the South Florida Bulls. After a rally that gave the Bulls two more runs, Akamine remained in the contest and spoiled USF’s comeback.

    “”Whoever gets the ball is going to do their best to win the game, and (the pitching staff is) working very hard and we’re up for this season,”” Sisk said.

    Likewise, Akamine doesn’t know if the pitching rotation will come down to a first and second option or if it will remain pitching-by-committee. She and her teammates are baffled by the preseason No. 7 ranking which is most likely caused by the questions about the pitching rotation.

    “”Our whole staff is really strong right now,”” Akamine said, in reference to the theory that Arizona’s pitching is in for a down year. “”I think we’ll surprise a lot of people when it comes to game time.””

    But maybe that No. 7 ranking – combined with the coaches from around the league projecting Arizona would finish in fourth-place in the Pac-10 – will serve as motivation for the Wildcats.

    “”Let them talk,”” Sisk said. “”I’m up for that. I love when people say that I can’t do it, because I love to prove them wrong, and I think this pitching staff will.””

    New coach, catcher add intrigue

    Not only will the Wildcats have new pitchers in the circle, but they will also have a new pitching coach to instruct the heirs to the throne.

    Teresa Wilson joins the already decorated Arizona coaching staff as a new assistant coach specializing in pitching. Wilson has over a decade’s worth of head coaching experience in the Pac-10 and most recently led the Texas Tech women’s program.

    Wilson has brought a new intensity to practice. Most notably, she calls the practice pitches as if it were a game, mixing up the type and location of each throw to simulate real situations.

    “”She’s definitely hard on us, which is good,”” Sisk said. “”She won’t let anything slide. She’ll pick up on everything, which is nice because to be the best you want to know those things that will make you better and I really like that.””

    In addition to long-time assistant Larry Ray, Wilson brings experience and wisdom to this young Arizona team. Her accolades include NCAA Coach of the Year, Big Ten Coach of the Year and coaching a Washington program to a record of 532-198-1.

    “”I don’t really consider Teresa as a new pitching coach,”” Candrea said. “”I have a lot of confidence in her and what she’s done. Now, it’s just a matter of going out and seeing where we’re at and making adjustments from there.””

    Some of those adjustments come in the pitching techniques. Sisk and Akamine both acknowledge that Wilson’s teaching has already helped with their throws.

    “”Right now, I would say there’s a lot that we’re working on,”” said Akamine. “”We’ve seen improvements from the very first time we came out here.””

    Candrea has already noticed Wilson’s impact on the two standout pitchers. While each has her own unique personality as a competitor, Candrea said their skills are similar.

    “”They’re similar in many ways because of the approach Teresa takes,”” he said. “”One’s very emotional (Akamine) and the other’s very stone-faced (Sisk). “”We’re going into this season with three pitchers and doing whatever it takes to win the game. Until things get established,”” Candrea added, “”that’s the only way you can go.””

    Catching On

    The Wildcats lose perhaps the best catcher who has donned an Arizona uniform: Callista Balko. She not only served as catcher to pitching greats Alicia Hollowell and Taryne Mowatt, but is also ninth on Arizona’s all-time home run list.

    Junior Stacie Chambers slides into the catcher’s spot in 2009 after hitting as the designated player in 2008. Chambers and third basemen Jenae Leles were the only players to start in all 60 games. Likewise, Chambers tied Leles for the highest output of RBIs with 49.

    Thus far, Chambers has showed little negative signs resulting from a September wrist surgery. In last weekend’s University of South Florida Wilson Tournament in Tampa, Fla., she knocked in 10 RBI including several clutch hits to aid Arizona in five victories.

    “”I have to get stretched out a lot,”” Chambers said of managing her wrist. “”It’s kind of messed with my elbow and my shoulder with tendinitis and stuff. But for the most part I feel great when I hit.””

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