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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Softball kicks off final home stand

     UA senior Jenae Leles prepares to throw the ball during an 11-3 Wildcat win against Oregon on March 28 at Hillenbrand Stadium. Leles and five other Arizona seniors will play their last home games in a UA uniform this weekend against UCLA on Friday and Washington on Saturday and Sunday.
    UA senior Jenae Leles prepares to throw the ball during an 11-3 Wildcat win against Oregon on March 28 at Hillenbrand Stadium. Leles and five other Arizona seniors will play their last home games in a UA uniform this weekend against UCLA on Friday and Washington on Saturday and Sunday.

    Home sweet home.

    The No. 7 Arizona softball team has spent the majority of the month of April enjoying the advantage of playing within the friendly confines of Hillenbrand Stadium. This weekend the Wildcats embark on their final home series against No. 2 UCLA (32-8, 7-4 Pacific 10 Conference) and No. 3 Washington (34-7, 7-4), hoping to keep their perfect record at home during Pac-10 play.

    The unusual schedule that slates three straight weekends of home games for Arizona (36-9, 8-2) gives it an advantage when playing conference games. The tradition that comes with Arizona starts with winning at home.

    “”Well, the first thing I was told when I was a freshman was that we do not lose at home,”” said sophomore Brittany Lastrapes. “”Arizona does not lose here.””

    In fact, Arizona has only suffered one loss at home this season – against Creighton on March 7. Through the years, Arizona has made it a top priority to make its home field an intimidating place to play.

    “”Ever since I built it, it’s been our goal to make it a place that’s tough to play in,”” said UA head coach Mike Candrea. “”We’re always looking forward to being at home. These games have big value to us every time we walk out here.””

    With the schedule the way it is, the Wildcats were set to host three straight series at home before heading out on the road for the remainder of the regular season. While the end is a tough stretch, the wins at home gave momentum to players and confidence to their game.

    Arizona has had the advantage of building its 1 1/2 game lead in the conference at its home field. Against a league as competitive as the Pac-10, winning at home is key to building a winning record. The Wildcats have won four straight games and climbed to the top of the conference, mainly due to their play at Hillenbrand Stadium.

    “”That is going to be a huge key for us,”” Candrea said about playing three weekends at home in a row. “”We can’t give up any games here. You get this crowd going and use it to your advantage.””

    It never hurts to have a full house either. Almost every time a game is played at Hillenbrand Stadium, the seats are filled – and that’s including the outfield bleachers. Arizona has set national records for attendance three straight years, and made its fan base an essential part of Wildcat softball.

    “”I think it’s a great environment. There are not many places that you go around the country where you’re going to walk into a packed house,”” Candrea said. “”It’s nice to be in a packed house when 99 percent of them have red on.””

    In addition to the fan support, the ballpark is favorable to Arizona’s offensive explosion. With hitters one through nine, the balls are flying out of Hillenbrand Stadium. The Wildcats also have the advantage of practicing and taking batting practice at the same stadium they play their home games in.

    “”This is our home field. We take batting practice here everyday, so when we’re up there I think we feel a little more comfortable,”” Lastrapes said.

    “”(With) the low humidity, the ball flies pretty well here,”” she added. “”The wind is always blowing out. It’s a hitter’s ballpark.””

    The advantage of playing at home might help to explain the number of home runs Arizona has hit this season. With the bats hot and the players confident at home, the sky is seemingly the limit for the Wildcats.

    “”There’s a lot of momentum. We’re finally playing like we own this field,”” said senior Sam Banister. “”That’s what Arizona softball is all about.””

    The advantage of playing at home has built confidence throughout their lineup. Their performances show that they can beat the best, and contend with anyone in the country.

    “”It’s going to be nice to come in especially against Danielle Lawrie,”” Banister said about the series with Washington. “”Take that momentum from the past couple weekends and just win.””

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