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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Desert heats up

    Arizona catcher Stacie Chamber (21) stares down a pitch during 20-1 win against UTEP on March 4 at Hillenbrand Stadium. Chambers, a junior, leads the NCAA with 23 home runs so far this season for the Wildcats.
    Arizona catcher Stacie Chamber (21) stares down a pitch during 20-1 win against UTEP on March 4 at Hillenbrand Stadium. Chambers, a junior, leads the NCAA with 23 home runs so far this season for the Wildcats.

    The first meeting of the year between any Arizona and ASU teams sends excitement through both schools; bitter rivals, ready to battle on the athletic field of choice.

    But the meeting of these two teams this year represents more than just a college in-state rivalry. Tonight and Saturday’s games -ÿboth at 7 p.m. – are also the meetings of two of the greatest softball programs in the nation. It’s not just the rivalry that matters anymore – it’s also the consistency and level of play among these two teams.

    The last three NCAA softball championships have ended with an Arizona team as the winner. Although it was ASU’s first NCAA softball title last season, the dominance of softball in the state of Arizona has long been a tradition south of the Tempe campus.

    The Arizona Wildcats (32-9, 4-2 Pacific 10 Conference) have flourished under the coaching of Mike Candrea. His approach to coaching and molding young softball players has not only increased the popularity and level of softball in the state, but around the conference as well.

    “”I think the one thing that we have going for us is being in the Pac-10 and being in a very prestigious conference when it comes to the game of softball,”” Candrea said.

    His approach to every series, whether an exhibition game or the final in the Women’s College World Series, is to emphasize improvement each game.

    “”Obviously my biggest goal is getting this team rolling in the right direction,”” Candrea said. “”No matter who we’re playing it’s important that we do the thing we need to do to get better. The ASU series is one of those. I don’t make it any bigger than any other one.””

    But for the fans in the stadium, the players on the field and people watching around the state, the meeting between two elite teams in softball is just that – a big deal.

    “”It’s an in-state rivalry and the alumni get after it. It’s probably more for the alumni and the people watching it than it is for the players,”” Candrea said. “”Although we obviously take a lot of pride in trying to hold the tradition of dominating Arizona State.””

    No. 5 ASU (34-7, 4-2 Pac-10) is ahead of the No. 10 Arizona Wildcats in the national standings, but both teams have the same conference record. They are in a three-way tie for second place alongside Washington.

    UA and ASU are also matched evenly on the field.

    This season, their struggles in the circle have been overshadowed by their offensive power. The Sun Devils are just .07 points behind Arizona’s nation-leading team batting average at .350. The Sun Devils’ Kaitlin Cochran sits at third in the nation with 17 home runs, behind only the Wildcats’ Stacie Chambers and Jenae Leles.

    Four straight losses to ASU have renewed the Wildcats’ hunger for this year’s Duel in the Desert.

    “”Definitely everyone’s a little bitter about it. You always want to beat your rival,”” said UA infielder Sam Banister said. “”The buzz isn’t really in the locker room, it’s on the field. We’re taking care of it with our gloves and our bats.””

    For the players, especially those from the Valley of the Sun, the series brings an extra incentive to the field. For K’lee Arredondo, that means dealing with family and friends after the game.

    “”The ASU series has(means) a little bit more to me because my whole family graduated from ASU,”” she said. “”They’ll give me crap the rest of the year if they beat us.””

    Laine Roth, a Phoenix native, also appreciated the competition between the two schools.

    “”It’s a fun rivalry because I know a lot of girls on the team and I love them to death,”” she said. “”But when I’m on the field I want to murder them.””

    The rivalry persists, but the mutual respect for each other is clearly growing.

    “”They’re a good program and we know it,”” Candrea said. “”It’s going to come down to what happens between the lines and not what happens in the newspapers or anything else.””

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