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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Softball brings the UA first championship since 2001

    OKLAHOMA CITY – The Arizona softball dynasty is officially back after winning the program’s seventh national championship. In doing so, the Wildcats swept Northwestern out of the championship round of the 2006 Women’s College World Series with a 5-0 victory yesterday and subsequent series sweep in Oklahoma City.

    It is the UA’s first national championship since 2001, when then-junior Jennie Finch led the softball team to its sixth national title.

    “”It’s great to be a part of this team,”” Arizona assistant coach Nancy Evans said. “”And to see them evolve and to be an inspiration guiding them, and helping them come together to learn, grow and mature is just so amazing.

    “”I’m just so proud of the kids. It’s great as a player, and it’s great as a coach.””

    Arizona (54-11) won this year’s championship in outright domination, as senior ace Alicia Hollowell (32-5) threw 14 shutout innings on her way to WCWS Most Outstanding Player honors against Northwestern (50-15).

    Junior center fielder Caitlin Lowe, senior left fielder Autumn Champion and sophomore designated Taryne Mowatt, who joined Hollowell on the All-WCWS team, led an Arizona offense that mustered 13 runs in the championship series and helped the Wildcats win 20 of their past 22 games.

    “”This is a very happy moment for these young ladies,”” Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said. “”To come out and perform the way they did this past week in such a tough arena, I really felt that we played our best softball at the end of it.

    “”My hat goes off to them, my staff and everyone involved in our program. They know how far we’ve come and it’s probably one of my better feelings sitting up here as a national champion.””

    The game started just how the Wildcats left off after Monday night’s 8-0 win, as Hollowell struck out the first three batters she faced. The Arizona offense also started its onslaught early, jumping out to a quick 1-0 lead in the top of the first, which would be all they would need for the night.

    Lowe started the home half of the inning, getting a leadoff single, followed by a single by Champion. Junior shortstop Kristie Fox advanced the runners on a sacrifice bunt, and sophomore catcher Callista Balko was out on a fielder’s choice, scoring Lowe, who set the record for runs scored in the WCWS with seven, and later added another to her total.

    The Northwestern offense mounted a few different rallies throughout the game, including four innings in which they had two runners on base.

    In the top of the third inning, Northwestern had the bases loaded with nobody out and still could not score.

    After a bizarre delay of game call, Hollowell was visibly upset when the umpire added a ball to her count, but she bounced back to get all three outs and escaped with no harm.

    Arizona tacked on four runs in the fifth and the sixth to give Hollowell some breathing room.

    “”The more runs you have, the better you feel,”” Candrea said. “”A walk and someone running into a pitch can change the game very quickly. I felt very comfortable when we scored three.””

    Hollowell, however, found some trouble finishing her final inning in a Wildcat uniform. She got the first two outs of the inning, but the Northwestern lineup loaded the bases once again but still failed to score.

    “”It was nice to have five runs with two outs (in the seventh inning). I was sure breathing a little easier,”” Hollowell said. “”And you know this team doesn’t want to make anything easy, so they tested me a little bit tonight.””

    However, Hollowell, who set the WCWS record for strikeouts with 64, said that she finished the game without a sense of doubt.

    “”Northwestern made some really good adjustments,”” Hollowell said. “”They totally changed their game plan from yesterday and it took me a little while to make my adjustments.

    “”At the end I just hit spots. I tried to get my pitches to do what I wanted them to do. Callista and I worked well together getting a good game plan going and changing it throughout the game.””

    Arizona’s other notable senior, Champion, went out on a strong note, going 3-for-4, with a run scored and two RBIs.

    “”People this whole postseason have been saying, ‘This could be your last game,’ and it really wasn’t something I thought about,”” she said. “”I just wanted to go out there and play Arizona softball, and it all came together tonight.””

    The championship for Arizona meant that since Candrea has been the head coach of the team, every notable pitcher has been able to secure a title, beginning with Debbie Day, Susie Parra, Evans, Finch and now Hollowell.

    “”Winning a national championship is what I came to Arizona to do,”” she said. “”While I’ve had great teams the four years I’ve been at Arizona, this team did everything we needed to do to put it together.””

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