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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Pro/Con: Should Candrea give bench players more time?

    Claire C. Laurence/ Arizona Daily Wildcat

No. 1 softball defeated guest Longbeach 11-0 in five innings on Sunday.
    Claire C. Laurence/ Arizona Daily Wildcat No. 1 softball defeated guest Longbeach 11-0 in five innings on Sunday.

    Team needs all hands on deck

    A single inning in March nearly squelched the No. 2 Arizona softball team’s national title hopes.

    In only two plays, the Wildcats’ two best players, senior pitcher Alicia Hollowell and junior center fielder Caitlin Lowe went down with season-threatening injuries against then-No. 4 Texas on March 19 in Fullerton, Calif.

    While Lowe continues to be sidelined after hurting her left (glove) hand sliding into first base in the sixth inning of that game, Hollowell pitched a complete-game win against Oregon on Saturday in her first performance since taking a line drive to the cheek from Longhorns’ sophomore outfielder MicKayla Padilla.

    The issue with the players’ injuries obviously isn’t their respective toughness. Lowe finished the game, and Hollowell walked back to the dugout under her own power. The big concern is what plan Arizona head coach Mike Candrea will have in place in case someone else goes down. With Lowe shelved, sophomore pitcher Taryne Mowatt, who’s emerged as a stellar second starter behind Hollowell, has logged 10 innings in right field in two games – including the entirety of Hollowell’s return performance Saturday – while sophomore outfielder Adrienne Acton has shifted to center. Since the moves, Arizona is 4-1, and the Wildcats’ offense has shown little signs of slowing, with senior left fielder Autumn Champion performing well in Lowe’s usual leadoff spot and Mowatt driving in the occasional run near the bottom of the lineup. But the reality of the situation is that this team is stretched to its limits.

    The Wildcats have excelled this season because of their offensive balance, something they lacked a year ago. Three players are tied for the team lead in home runs with six, and two others have five. While these numbers suggest that a loss of one position player here or there wouldn’t mean much to the team’s overall production, remember that Arizona is being propped up by a shorthanded roster.

    The Wildcats are carrying three fewer athletes than they did in 2005, and Arizona’s sparse bench is composed entirely of pinch runners: senior outfielder Kelly Nelson, a former Arizona soccer player, sophomore walk-on second baseman Danielle Rodriguez and freshman outfielder Jill Malina. The three are the team’s only athletes not to see an at-bat yet this season (though Malina started in right field when Mowatt pitched in Hollowell’s absence), and Candrea runs a big risk if that trend continues.

    Clearly, you can make the case that with the Wildcats just beginning their Pacific 10 Conference season – perhaps the nation’s best tune-up for the NCAA Tournament and the Women’s College World Series – it shouldn’t be wasting precious plate appearances on players who aren’t ready to compete offensively on a level akin to their teammates’.

    But winning isn’t everything – at least, not in March and April. Though Arizona will be looking to improve on its four-way tie for last year’s Pac-10 title, national runner-up UCLA proved last summer that conference success (or the lack thereof, in the case of the Bruins’ fifth-place finish) doesn’t necessarily guarantee a trip to Oklahoma City.

    Candrea would do well to give each of his benchwarmers, including Malina, a start or two over the team’s remaining 25 regular-season contests. His squad is talented enough to compensate for any lapses that might result, and the experience provided could make the difference between a trophy-hoisting and shattered dreams.

    -Roman Veytsman

    Candrea smart to stick with guns

    Thanks to great coaching from Arizona head coach Mike Candrea, the Wildcats softball team is 30-4 and ranked No. 2 in the entire country.

    The team has had very few low points in its young season. The pitching has been phenomenal, with senior ace Alicia Hollowell breaking Arizona’s all-time wins record (127 and counting). Something more, sophomore pitcher Taryne Mowatt and Hollowell have each twice won the Pacific 10 Conference Pitcher of the Week award.

    There have even been the unsung heroes like junior second baseman Chelsie Mesa going on a tear weeks ago and winning the honors for Pac-10 Player of the Week.

    The Wildcats have gone 12-4 against ranked opponents and 18-0 against teams that have fallen under the radar. Despite the fact that the team is so deep that it probably could have won the games it played against unranked opponents with its backups starting, it was a smart idea for Candrea to use them to such a small extent.

    There are currently three players on the team who have not had a single at-bat all year: senior outfielder Kelly Nelson, sophomore walk-on second baseman Danielle Rodriguez and freshman outfielder Jill Malina; but despite the lack of at-bats, all have seen action in games this year.

    Rodriguez has appeared in nine games, coming off the bench in small situations, like taking over in the field or pinch running.

    Nelson has appeared in a whopping 21 games without a single official at-bat but has scored 10 runs and is 3-for-3 on stolen base attempts.

    Malina, who has started three games, has no official at-bats and not even a base on balls to her name, but she has still been productive on the base paths, with four runs scored and a stolen base.

    Senior pitcher Leslie Wolfe has only started one game this year, pitching three innings against No. 10 Louisiana-Lafayette, but by Arizona softball standards, the pitching was anything but strong. In those three innings, she gave up two runs (one earned) on two hits and one walk.

    Granted, if Hollowell were to put up such numbers in three innings, Candrea most likely wouldn’t pull his ace, but since there is so much uncertainty surrounding the unproven, young reserves on the team, Candrea made the wise decision.

    If a star player were to go down, like Hollowell did weeks ago against No. 1 Texas, Candrea still has plenty of backups to field an elite softball squad.

    Take Mowatt for example. She was stuck with the daunting task of coming in relief of the injured Hollowell against the Longhorns’ three-time All-American senior Cat Osterman. She received the loss, but as her recent performances have shown, Mowatt is pitching just as well as Hollowell has been at her best.

    Not only is it risky starting the unproven players, it also gives the regulars on the team a chance to get as many good at-bats as they can in before the Pac-10 games start, which are the only ones that really matter for future endeavors. And it’s hard for the players to truly tire down, as the softball schedule only entails two to three games a week.

    It’s not like spring training for baseball players, where several minor leaguers are given the opportunity to shine for a professional club before the actual season starts.

    The 30-4 record speaks for itself.

    -Mike Ritter

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