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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Not all fun and games

    Sheldon Smith/ Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA Softball plays ASU. Game cancelled due to rain.
    Sheldon Smith
    Sheldon Smith/ Arizona Daily Wildcat UA Softball plays ASU. Game cancelled due to rain.

    During a casual conversation with teammate Jenae Leles a few weeks ago, Sam Banister was the one who jokingly told approaching head coach Mike Candrea that she didn’t want to talk to him, as if her private talk with Leles was more important.

    And despite Mother Nature literally raining on their parade on Saturday, Banister was still smiling, helping her teammates push the air bubble out from under the wet plastic tarp that covered the field – that tarp covered not only the infield, but also a golden opportunity for Arizona to beat ASU, as Sun Devil ace Hillary Bach was already struggling through three innings.

    Banister has a bubbly personality that can keep a sports team in perspective, but underneath that light-hearted exterior lies a fire comparable to any other great athlete.

    “”(Other teams) probably think I’m kind of ditsy or not really focused,”” Banister said, “”but I can’t be serious when I play. Then I start over thinking everything.””

    Her competitive streak shined as bright as ever in Friday’s 10-8 win over the skilled No. 5 ASU team.

    Banister hit a pair of three-run homers in key moments of the game, including one that saved Arizona from a potentially crushing defeat. The Wildcats were down 7-8 after ASU scored six runs in the top of the sixth before she gave her team the lead with her second homer.

    Maybe ASU did think she was ditsy and unfocused. Maybe they underestimated her. Who knows?

    One thing’s for sure: ASU had intentionally walked catcher Stacie Chambers, the nation’s home run leader and Arizona’s No. 4 hitter in the order, forcing Banister to make the big play.

    Banister, at the No. 5 position, isn’t placed behind Chambers without reason. Candrea knows that she isn’t just a goofball – he knows she’s a softball player, too.

    “”That’s why I have her in that spot,”” Candrea said. “”I know there’s going to be games when they’re going to pitch around Chambers.

    “”Sammy loves to be behind the eight ball,”” he added. “”She likes the pressure, and she performs better when she’s under pressure.””

    Jump to before the first pitch; Candrea told the team that he didn’t want to see the laughing and screwing around that he often sees before games.

    “”You better have your game face on, because this is a big ballgame,”” he said.

    After ASU rallied, Brittany Lastrapes hit a single to put the tying run on base. Next up, the fiery K’Lee Arredondo – perhaps the team’s vocal leader – got on with a bunt single, but on a wild pitch, she took a risky late jump to steal second and was cut down.

    With Lastrapes having advanced to third, Leles came to the plate looking for a big hit. She struck out after anxiously taking a number of Barry Bonds-like swings before Chambers was walked.

    Oddly enough, it wasn’t the ever-serious Arredondo or the quiet-but-confident Leles who made the big hit.

    It was the player who doesn’t know how to put a “”game face”” on, turning in the team’s biggest hit of the year. Banister calmly stepped to the plate and smashed an inside pitch to left field, and Arizona held on for the win.

    Banister acknowledged her dramatically different personality after the game, adding that being who she is contributes to how well she plays.

    “”Those two are always anxious, it’s just their personalities,”” Banister said of Leles and Arredondo. “”I just go up there and try to clear my mind of everything, and think of coach and everything he’s taught me. What he’s taught me is to prepare before the game and let your instincts take over.””

    Her instinctual, laid-back attitude kept her calm enough to make a play that defines the competitiveness of the in-state rivalry.

    “”Sam, I think growing up, never was able to enjoy the game,”” Candrea said. “”I think she’s kind of taken that all out when she came to Arizona – to be able to laugh and giggle. I don’t mind it, but I think there’s a time and place.””

    She must have known the correct time and place, because it happened to be at a crossroads for the team and its season.

     

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