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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Softball heads to Tempe for season-opening tournament

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Ginny Polin
Ginny Polin / Arizona Daily Wildcat Wilbur photoessay

After a long, painful summer following a rare loss in the Super Regional round of the NCAA playoffs, the Arizona softball team will travel to Tempe today to play McNeese State in the Kajikawa Classic.

While teams like McNeese State and Cal State Northridge don’t pose a major threat to the Wildcats’ chance of winning the tournament, the No. 15 Texas A&M Aggies and No. 21 Nebraska Cornhuskers will pose a tough challenge to the experienced Arizona team.

“It’s not so much a team competition, we just need to not battle ourselves, not put too much pressure on ourselves,” All-American pitcher Kenzie Fowler said. “It’s the beginning of the weekend, so a lot can happen. It’s just a good start to get the juices going and hit the ball.”

In the Nebraska game on Friday, Fowler will be facing a familiar opponent: her little sister. When the Fowlers face off, Kenzie Fowler as pitcher and Mattie Fowler at third base, they won’t be taking it easy on each other, Kenzie Fowler said.

“She’s so competitive, I think, in all aspects, because she’s the younger sibling. She’s always had that fighting personality,” Kenzie Fowler said. “I know when the game starts, she’ll turn it on.”

For the rest of the team, the first games of the season, while perhaps lacking sentimental value, will bring excitement and passion back to a hungry team, head coach Mike Candrea said.

“This team has been pretty focused since this summer,” Candrea said. “We’ve got a lot of kids that have worked very hard to make this a special year, and now the time is around the corner. The excitement is building and now it’s just time to go out and play the game.”

Besides the team’s intangibles, Candrea said he is enthusiastic about the lineup he assembled. Arizona has experience like Kenzie Fowler, leadership from four seniors that have played in the College World Series before, and a fresh energy and willingness to give everything from his four freshmen, which will all contribute this season.

“For the first time in a long time, this lineup is very deep,” Candrea said. “One through nine can hurt you. This team has that air of confidence from different personalities, different complexions that I think is much more favorable for going to battle.”

Arizona has two named to National Player of the Year Watchlist
The Amateur Softball Association of America and USA Softball released its annual Player of the Year Watch List last week, and the Wildcats have a pair of juniors mentioned.

Second-team All-American third baseman Brigette Del Ponte and two-time first-team All-American pitcher Kenzie Fowler were named to the list on Wednesday. Preseason honors are nothing new to Fowler, who has been a finalist for the award since stepping on campus two years ago.

“It’s definitely an honor, but nothing I want to think about too much,” Fowler said. “It just reminds me that I need to work hard. It’s an honor because those are great players — players I’ll be playing against.”

Fowler, a Tucson native, is a power pitcher with a 1.67 ERA and 61-18 record after two seasons. She has also worked steadily since missing time from injuries in each of her first two years to place seventh on Arizona’s all-time strikeout list with 614, and ninth on the all time career wins list with 64.

“I think I’ve been through it all, but you never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “The experiences I’ve been through will make me successful in the long run. It made me stronger mentally.”

Del Ponte, albeit a team leader and very productive player both offensively and defensively, has never been considered for this award, but said she’s ready to prove why she deserves recognition.

“It makes me nervous, but it also makes me want to work that much harder because I want to prove to everyone that I can do that and I can be that person,” Del Ponte said.

Del Ponte, a career .724 slugger, set freshman records for RBIs and home runs and set the Arizona doubles record a year ago. However, she says those are abilities she stepped on campus with. Her growth as a player is attributed to the coaching of eight-time NCAA champion head coach Mike Candrea.

“Coming here, I knew the fundamentals,” Del Ponte said. “He taught me the mental side, how to prepare.”

Candrea often preaches leadership from seniors, but the leadership he gets from these two players will take his team a long way, he says.

“You have to almost develop leaders in this day and age,” Candrea said. “Both of them are very competitive, like to play the game, and play the game hard. Those two are very capable of performing and being leaders for our team.”

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