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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “Ace aims for title, not records”

    As she slogged through the most mortal six weeks of her career, Alicia Hollowell realized dominance had a price.

    After setting the program record for most wins in a season in 2003 and 2004, the Arizona softball team’s senior ace hit a wall in Pacific 10 Conference play as a junior last spring, losing more games in 18 appearances – six – than in either of her first two seasons.

    “”Playing in the Pac-10, that’s going to happen,”” she said. “”My freshman year I got away with a lot of stuff because I was new. Sophomore year, I got a little better. But last year, things caught up with me, and now I got to turn it around this season.””

    For the first time in her career, Hollowell enters a year with questions hanging over her 6-foot-1 frame.

    Carrying much of the throwing load from the end of the regular season, she ended 2005 with 446 strikeouts, the second most in Arizona history.

    Yet she set career highs in losses (nine), walks allowed (51) and wild pitches (24), and finished with career lows in innings pitched (279) and strikeouts per seven innings (11.2).

    Much of that came thanks to mediocre performance during Pac-10 play (10-6, 9.7 strikeouts per seven innings, 11 wild pitches).

    “”I think that every athlete has a rough couple of games or rough couple of weeks. Some even have a rough month or two,”” senior pitcher Leslie Wolfe said. “”It was just one of those times. And it wasn’t like she wasn’t trying to fix it, either, trying to work on extra stuff, doing extra things. Whatever wasn’t working, she was trying to make it better for the next weekend.””

    Any frustrations Hollowell carried into the Wildcats’ 17th Women’s College World Series in 18 seasons seemed to be unloaded in full.

    Boosting an offense that struggled to plate runs – a paltry .106 batting average over three games – she allowed only one earned run in 28 2/3 innings.

    “”At that part of the year, instinct kicks in, and all the work she’s done all year long is for that one week or two weeks now,”” said Arizona assistant coach Nancy Evans, who competed in the WCWS four times from 1994-1998 and won two national titles. “”When it comes to the end of the season, that’s what all that hard work’s for. The adrenaline rush kicks in, and so does that focus.””

    Arizona dropped its second and final game of the WCWS to Texas in a 1-0, 11-inning thriller June 5, as the Longhorns’ Cat Osterman, a two-time national player of the year, went the distance, striking out 19.

    Hollowell relieved Wolfe after 1 1/3 innings and took the hard-luck loss after more than nine innings pitched, despite not allowing an earned run.

    From there, Hollowell joined the 25-player Olympic National Training Team, which competed in two summer tournaments, the World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma City and the Japan Cup in Yokohama. Hollowell did not allow a run in 8 2/3 innings, fanning 12.

    “”It was a lot of fun,”” she said. “”I learned a lot, playing up at a whole new level, just seeing the game a different way. It was a lot of fun, just trying to work on all my different pitches, just getting a lot better.””

    Hollowell’s improvement will be tested in 2006, as the pressure looms for her to close out her career by helping Arizona win its seventh national title.

    The full burden won’t fall on her, however, as the team’s pitching staff – including sophomore pitcher Taryne Mowatt – returns intact.

    Another year with Wolfe, a fellow senior, should reap benefits.

    “”We are always talking – in season, out of season – about opponents or what’s working for me, what’s working for her, what’s not working for me,”” Wolfe said. “”Especially in season. We definitely get together and talk about who’s coming up and what we’re going to throw.””

    Health provided, Hollowell should set or extend numerous Arizona career-pitching marks this season.

    Already the team’s all-time leader in strikeouts (1,348), no-hitters (nine) and perfect games (five), she needs 7 1/3 innings and 13 wins, respectively, to outdo Jennie Finch’s and Evans’ career records.

    Should Hollowell rebound to earn another 40 victories, she would become the NCAA’s all-time leader, surpassing former Southern Mississippi hurler Courtney Blades (151 wins, 1997-2001).

    “”I don’t really pay attention to the numbers. I don’t look at them at all,”” Hollowell said. “”I look at the team’s win-loss record. Those are the only numbers I look at.””

    Indeed, if the Wildcats can outlast Osterman and Ritter and the rest of the likely WCWS field, Hollowell’s statistical achievements – and follies – will be allowed to fade into legend.

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