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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Softball’s bats strike fear into opponents

    Sheldon Smith/ Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA Softball vs. Cal
    Sheldon Smith/ Arizona Daily Wildcat UA Softball vs. Cal

    Fear is a word loosely thrown around by coaches and broadcasters, but it may be the only word left to describe the feelings of the Arizona softball team’s opposing pitchers’ from here on out.

    Since returning to Tucson for an eight-game home stand, the Wildcats have come up with four victories over three top-15 teams, all while averaging 10 runs per outing.

    “”I think every hitter walking out there feels like they’re going to hit the ball hard,”” said head coach Mike Candrea. “”One through nine, people are starting to get that feeling like they’re invincible, that they can hit anything (opponents) throw at us.””

    It could be that the Wildcats are just that good, but it’s not only what they’re doing now. The damage they’ve inflicted on other teams earlier in the season has embedded itself into the minds of their upcoming opponents.

    Pacific 10 Conference games give teams easy access in scouting one another and watching video, so everyone in the conference can see Arizona’s deep and powerful batting lineup.

    Clearly, those video sessions haven’t given other Pac-10 coaches the answers to suffocating the Wildcat hitters, and they could actually be hurting the opposing pitchers’ confidence coming into games against Arizona.

    What goes through a pitcher’s head when she watches tape after tape of Arizona batters hitting home run after home run? And what was California pitcher Marissa Drewrey thinking when she heard Arizona drubbed 12 runs on Stanford’s standout pitcher Missy Penna the night prior?

    “”I think a lot of teams are aware that our team can hit, so they have to be very careful where they pitch us the ball,”” said UA shortstop K’Lee Arredondo. “”But I’m sure teams can’t really keep it over the plate with us.””

    Arredondo’s comments came after her team lit up Drewrey for two grand slams during the first inning of Saturday’s 11-2 blowout. Drewrey threw mostly balls, begging the home-plate umpire to stretch his strike zone out of each batter’s reach.

    With a full count, the bases loaded and no outs, she was forced to throw a strike to home-run machine Stacie Chambers, which resulted in a grand slam. And after two outs and three more walks, leadoff hitter Brittany Lastrapes took her second at-bat in the first inning for another grand slam.

    “”I think we get on a roll together,”” Lastrapes said. “”Even if I don’t get a hit, I know K’Lee, Jenae (Leles), anyone down the lineup, we can all get it done.””

    The confidence in one another puts less pressure on themselves, and that’s the reason for their recent offensive improvements, Lastrapes added, but their offense isn’t taking advantage solely on young or inexperienced pitchers.

    Take Friday’s game against No. 2 Stanford as an example. Facing Penna and her nationally ranked fifth-best 0.90 ERA, the Wildcats jumped out to a 3-0 lead after a Leles home run that scored Lastrapes and Arredondo.

    When the first three players in the batting order touched home plate in the first inning, the odds of a defense remaining calm and confident was not very good.

    “”For any pitcher, getting a home run shot off of you in the first inning and being down three runs,”” Leles said, “”it could be hard for a team to come back.””

    And even the veteran Penna didn’t recover, allowing 12 earned runs before Arizona walked off the field mid-sixth inning with a run-rule shortened 12-4 victory, and in doing so, spiked the ace’s ERA to 1.30.

    Traditionally a slap-hitting team, this year’s squad has shaped itself out of necessity in more ways than one. Without a pitching ace and the speed Candrea’s teams have had, this team has relied on the home run but it hasn’t slowed them down a bit.

    “”We work on our hitting a lot, and unfortunately, we don’t have the wheels and the speed we once had,”” senior Sam Banister said of the high home run count. “”We kind of have to work with what we’ve got.””

    105 home runs on the year is what they’ve got, and that’s on pace to reset the 2001 Arizona squad’s NCAA record of 126 homers in a single season. If the Wildcats must live and die by the long-ball, so be it. After all, their 36-9 record shows they’ve lived more than they’ve died.

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