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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Softball frosh thrust into pitching role

    Freshman pitcher Sarah Akamine winds up to pitch in Arizonas 4-3 win over Northwestern Feb. 10 in Tempe. Akamine expected to see time at third base, but has gone 4-0 as a pitcher instead.
    Freshman pitcher Sarah Akamine winds up to pitch in Arizona’s 4-3 win over Northwestern Feb. 10 in Tempe. Akamine expected to see time at third base, but has gone 4-0 as a pitcher instead.

    Sarah Akamine came into the season with very low expectations. She knew she was joining a team that had won a national championship the year before and was returning all but one starter on offense.

    The Escondido, Calif., native thought she might see a little time at third base, if anything.

    But three weeks into the season she finds herself in a starring role as the Wildcats’ No. 2 pitcher.

    The drastic change in plans has caught everyone by surprise, including Akamine herself.

    “”I didn’t think I was going to play that much,”” she said. “”I thought I’d be playing third base and hitting a little bit. I definitely didn’t expect to pitch.””

    It is hard to argue with the results. Her record stands at 4-0 and she boasts a team best 1.79 ERA. She’s also shown an uncanny knack for pitching out of trouble, and her composure has impressed even her more experienced teammates.

    “”Sarah’s done a really good job,”” said junior catcher Callista Balko. “”Coming in as a freshman, it just seems like she has a mental grasp on the mound, like she knows what is going on, knows what she needs to do and doesn’t freak out.””

    Speaking to that composure, Akamine has only walked three batters all season.

    Her play is even more impressive considering, if she had it her way, she would be playing third base instead of pitching.

    “”I’m starting to like to pitch, I’m starting to like it a lot,”” Akamine said, “”but my main choice would be third base. That’s just not in the cards for me right now.””

    Akamine was forced to pitch because another freshman, heralded recruit Amanda Williams, hasn’t played this season while dealing with undisclosed personal issues.

    In fact, the thought of Akamine being anything more than an emergency pitcher was so far from the coaching staff’s mind that her profile on the team’s Web site features this quote from head coach Mike Candrea: “”She has great power at the plate and good hands, which will be a benefit at third base.””

    But it has been Akamine’s performance on the mound, not at third base, that has caught Candrea’s eye to this point in the season.

    “”I think she’s done a good job,”” he said. “”She’s accepted a role that we need from her and she’s doing her best.””

    Akamine credits UA pitching coach Nancy Evans as a vital reason for her success so far.

    “”Nancy’s really helping me a lot,”” she said. “”We’re in (the bullpen) every day before practice throwing, and when we’re doing hitting work I’ll be pitching. I’ve just focused all my attention towards pitching.””

    Evans, an All-American pitcher during her playing days at Arizona, was uncertain how the converted third baseman would fare early on.

    “”I wasn’t sure what to expect,”” she said. “”But I knew she had a great mental attitude and a good approach to the game and understood what her role had become, that it had changed, so in the beginning of the spring she worked really hard putting extra time into her pitching.

    “”Then coming out and seeing her do so well was a pleasant thing to see and it’s exciting.””

    This season the pitching duo of Akamine and ace Taryne Mowatt has helped carry the Wildcats to a 9-2 record and a No. 4 ranking in the country.

    And despite her early successes, Akamine only gives herself a “”C”” on her performance so far.

    “”I think there’s always room for improvement,”” she said.

    Evans believes that Akamine has what it takes.

    “”She has the physical talent, she just needs to keep working hard and stay positive and never be satisfied,”” Evans said. “”I think she’ll keep being successful as long as she does those things – and knowing the kind of kid she is, the kind of athlete she is, I think she’ll do that.””

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