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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Softball opens Pac-10 play at home

    Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Softball takes on UTEP in a double-header Wednesday evening.
    Michael Ignatov
    Michael Ignatov / Arizona Daily Wildcat Softball takes on UTEP in a double-header Wednesday evening.

    The Arizona softball team wants to hit the ground running for its opening Pacific 10 Conference games and its first taste of the in-conference buzz-saw this weekend against Oregon State (16-13) and Oregon (10-17).

    The Beavers will be Arizona’s first opponent, visiting Hillenbrand Stadium tonight at 7 p.m. The Ducks will have two shots at No. 11 Arizona, tomorrow at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m.

    Looking at their records, the Oregon schools are currently the only teams in the Pac-10 to hit double-digits in the loss column, but the Wildcats will try to avoid letting that knowledge deceive them into a lackluster start.

    “”They didn’t lose a whole lot from last season, either team,”” said UA assistant coach Larry Ray. “”They’ll move the ball, they’ll be tough. As long as our pitching can hit their spots and the hitters swing at good pitches, we’ll be okay.””

    And after a wild first half of the season, where the Wildcats would explode for 20 runs one game and go cold the next, changes in practice have the team re-energized and refocused.

    “”We’ve been doing a lot of running and just focusing on throwing and catching, the basics,”” said senior Jill Malina. “”Everyone in the Pac-10 is really good, so we’ve really been using this past week to buckle down.””

    Ray also noted the changes in the practice routines, saying that the team had been “”going through the motions”” in previous weeks, which perhaps led to some of its seemingly obtuse performances against lesser competition.

    The coaching staff hopes those changes will light a fire under the players, one that will be necessary to continue to aide the team in the upward direction. As always, progress remains the key to the puzzle.

    Head coach Mike Candrea is looking to McKale Center as evidence of a team buying into a season-long process of improvement.

    “”I think our basketball team’s a good example of a team that has stuck with the process and has gotten better, playing their best basketball right now,”” Candrea said. “”Softball is a lot of the same. You have got to get through the games, but when you have the opportunity to get to the postseason, that’s when you want to play your best softball.””

    Continuing to grow against Oregon State, the Wildcat pitchers will aim to fend off former Arizona great Caitlin Lowe’s little sister, Paige Lowe, who is leading the team with a .345 battling average. The senior will match up against any one – or all – of the Lindsey Sisk (10-2), Sarah Akamine (13-4) and Jennifer Martinez (5-1) trio.

    “”The biggest thing for our pitching staff is to be able to give them different looks, force them to make quick adjustments,”” Candrea said. “”In order to do that, we need all three of them throwing well.””

    Against Oregon, the Wildcats will face freshman pitcher Samantha Skillingstad (7-6), who touts a solid 1.85 ERA through 79 innings of work while compiling a 3.5 to 1 strike out to walk ratio. Arizona will look to its defense to get just enough stops to top the Ducks if its bats cannot put together any luck against Skillingstad.

    One of Arizona’s keys to victory is keeping the opponent to fewer than three runs. The Wildcats are 17-0 when giving up two or fewer runs, again hinting that defense wins games.

    “”This games starts in the circle and gravitates out,”” Candrea said.

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