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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Walking a tight rope

Koby Gray Upchurch / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Koby Gray Upchurch
Koby Gray Upchurch / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona softball head coach Mike Candrea is going to “”blow a vain.””

Despite having a large number of returning players this season, Arizona is not living up to its normal standards. The Wildcats’ win on Sunday snapped a five-game losing streak, something that hasn’t happened in 20 years.

The one thing that is glaring is the absence of pitcher Kenzie Fowler since that Washington series when she sustained a concussion. Freshman Shelby Babcock has done her best in Fowler’s place, but it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing.

“”I commend her, I just wish she’d learn not to make things interesting,”” Candrea said of Babcock’s relief efforts against the Washington huskies on April 17. “”You play with fire when you do that.””

So far during her freshman season, Babcock has been known to flirt with danger.

She leads the Pacific 10 Conference in walks by a staggering number. Her 114 free passes are 36 more than the next highest pitcher in the conference.

Since her concussion more than two weeks ago, Fowler’s status has been a dark cloud over Arizona’s season.

“”It’s hard to comment right now on that,”” said Candrea about the uncertainty regarding Fowler. “”It’s better (today than a week ago). I think she’s on the right track, so we’ll see.””

Candrea said Fowler still had symptoms of a concussion as of Sunday. Fowler must be symptom free for one day before she can take a test to be cleared for play.

Despite being Arizona’s starter since April 17, Babcock is still finding her groove.

“”I don’t know,”” Babcock said of her role right now. “”It just all depends on Kenzie right now.””

Babcock has faltered and is having a trying transition at the Division 1 level. Despite some time to get used to her starting position, Babcock said she is still unsure of herself.

“”I know my role on this team is to pitch, obviously,”” Babcock said. “”I think Coach sees me growing and starting to gain maturity. But I don’t know. I think we’ll just need to wait to see until Kenzie gets back to know what my role is.””

What has been definable, though, is exactly what Fowler’s absence has taken away from the Wildcats — a dependable pitcher with the most experience a returning sophomore could possibly have.

The difference between Fowler and Babcock is clear: Fowler only has two more starts than Babcock, but the inactive pitcher has five more wins and the same number of losses. Her ERA is more than two points below Babcock’s, and batters are hitting .186 off the sophomore compared to .267 against Babcock.

Babcock is nearly even with her in terms of number of innings pitched — Fowler has pitched just five more this season. And, of course, one stat that doesn’t even up is the number of walks — Babcock has 44 more.

That’s something that Candrea can’t afford with only two weeks left in the season.

Babcock’s struggles were epitomized on Friday against the Oregon Ducks. She put runners in scoring position in five of the seven innings and although she only got burned in the seventh when she gave up two runs, it was enough to seal the loss for Arizona.

What’s clear is Babcock’s lack of control at this stage as a pitcher. Although she’s had to go through a baptism by fire, the Wildcats will need even more out of the pitcher who threw more than 400 pitches this weekend against Oregon.

With only two weeks left — at national powerhouse UCLA and hosting California — the Wildcats have to find a way to get back on the favorable side in the Pac-10.

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