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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Softball on track despite flurry of challenges

Ernie Somoza / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Ernie Somoza
Ernie Somoza / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Twenty-eight games into a schedule fit for a title-hopeful softball team, the Arizona Wildcats have yet to find continuity.

After going 3-2 in the challenging Judi Garman Classic Tournament — three of the teams they played were ranked in the top 25 — head coach Mike Candrea’s squad has put together a 25-3 record despite road barriers galore.

Mostly thanks to injuries, the Wildcats could turn a series of bad-luck stories into positives down the line — get over the seemingly endless track of hurdles, and the team could be battle-tested enough to be a serious threat to follow up the reigning national champion Washington Huskies, even with a freshman — in ace Kenzie Fowler — in the circle.

Despite a hard-fought loss to No. 4 Michigan and another defeat at the hands of an unranked Virginia team this weekend, the Wildcats did fare better against No. 24 Louisville and No. 11 Oklahoma. Against the Sooners, Candrea saw a glimpse of that never-die attitude that a championship-level team needs.

“”I thought it was one of those defining moments that some teams have throughout the year,”” Candrea said of his team fighting back from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3. “”I really felt that we fought hard.””

It was similar to the fight the team has shown throughout the entire non-conference season.

See hot-hitting sophomore Lini Koria missing two weekends’ worth of games after the death of her mother.

See No. 2 pitcher Sarah Akamine recovering from back surgery but gutting it out to pitch seven solid innings against New Mexico in a 9-3 win last weekend.

See outfielder Karissa Buchanan, now with a finger injury that called for X-rays. Or freshman first baseman Baillie Kirker missing time after being hit in the ribs by a ball.

The Wildcats only have three losses, all without continuity in the lineup or much of a breather in Arizona’s opponents. Two of those three losses came to No. 4- and No. 5-ranked squads, seasoning the Wildcats with World Series-type play.

“”That was a good game for us,”” Candrea said of the loss to Michigan. “”I thought it was a game that we needed to play a good opponent and see what it’s like to see when we get into crunch time.””

Even falling to Virginia didn’t seem to rile Candrea.

“”We were in both ball games that we ended up losing,”” he said after the weekend. “”You have to take the good with it. We had opportunities to win.””

Cashing in on those opportunities is part of the learning curve.

So should Arizona be hailed as a championship contender at this point?

It’s too early to say, especially before Pacific 10 Conference play begins.

What will be the most telling is if the players can take each challenge to heart and turn the defeats and the downfalls into persistence and experience.

Just the usual national championship softball talk in Tucson.

— Kevin Zimmerman is a journalism junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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