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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Local commit expected to be next UA pitching star

    UA commit Kenzie Fowler, who now pitches for Tucsons Canyon Del Oro High School, unleashes a pitch at a recent game. Fowler, a sophomore, owns a 10-1 record with a 0.30 ERA and 167 strikeouts to go with a pair of no-hitters and is known as arguably the Wildcats biggest recruit ever.
    UA commit Kenzie Fowler, who now pitches for Tucson’s Canyon Del Oro High School, unleashes a pitch at a recent game. Fowler, a sophomore, owns a 10-1 record with a 0.30 ERA and 167 strikeouts to go with a pair of no-hitters and is known as arguably the Wildcats’ biggest recruit ever.

    Kenzie Fowler is an elite among high school softball pitchers. At age 16, she has already thrown the same speed that Arizona great Jennie Finch topped out at in college.

    She is ranked as one of the top players in the country at any position.

    And starting in spring 2010, Kenzie-mania will be sweeping across the Arizona campus.

    Not only might Fowler be the most prized recruit UA head coach Mike Candrea has ever had, but she might also be the most-hyped prep athlete to ever come out of Tucson.

    Fowler is well aware of Arizona’s current pitching troubles. If she could help now, she would.

    The 6-foot Fowler can only do what she has done her entire life, and that’s watch her future team from the stands.

    Fowler is a sophomore pitcher at Tucson’s Canyon Del Oro High School. Even as a freshman, she was receiving dozens of letters from various schools across the country, including every Pacific 10 Conference school.

    To save herself some time and energy learning about specific collegiate programs, Fowler verbally committed to her hometown Arizona team during an unofficial visit for recruits in October. She may one day put her name down in UA pitching history with Finch, Alicia Hollowell and Nancy Evans.

    “”I didn’t expect to commit that day,”” she said. “”I just found myself in coach Candrea’s office, and it felt right to me. I’ve always wanted to go to U of A. … It felt right, so I committed.””

    Fowler will join the Wildcats for the 2010 season. Even though that seems like a long way off, catcher Callista Balko, a CDO graduate who was coached by Fowler’s mother, Kelly, is already helping Fowler prepare for her college career.

    “”I just told her it’s obviously way different than high school and ASA ball,”” Balko said in October. “”I just kind of gave her a little heads up about the commitment factors. Like, here, social life is really last on the list. She knows that, and she’s that type of player. … She’s the type of player that plays here.””

    “”I really wasn’t too concerned with letting her know,”” Balko added. “”She’s a great kid, good in school, and she’s got her head on straight. She knows what she wants to do, so I’m just here if she needs any advice.””

    UA softball in the blood

    Fowler’s house is very softball-friendly. In the backyard is a built-in batting cage that is frequently occupied by players of all ages.

    Her parents have been softball coaches their entire lives and also have lineage in basketball coaching.

    The familiarity of the Arizona softball program made it a no-brainer for Fowler to verbally commit. That and also the fact that nearly all her relatives have graduated from Arizona. Growing up just seven miles from the UA campus, Fowler has gone to softball games at Hillenbrand Stadium ever since she can remember.

    “”I would love watching U of A games,”” she said. “”I would just sit on the floor watching the games. We’ve had tickets since I was an infant.””

    Fowler said she still has old Arizona softball posters and autographs from when she was in elementary school and used to have pictures on her bedroom wall of UA greats like Finch.

    Fowler celebrated her 16th birthday yesterday, but Balko said she is very mature for her age.

    “”Even how she carries herself on the mound is incredible for her age,”” Balko said.

    Committing at such an early age, Fowler said, was a “”huge weight taken off my shoulder.””

    “”I can just relax and have fun and not worry about coaches coming to watch me,”” she said.

    Kelly said she although she still has to make sure her daughter doesn’t get

    overworked, it is nice to know she won’t have to worry about college coaches recruiting her.

    “”There was going to be a lot of pressure on her, and it was coming fast,”” Kelly said. “”We were at a big showcase tournament and … this coach walked up to me and said, ‘You didn’t even give us a chance.'””

    However, Candrea had a head start on the recruiting process, as Kelly has been friends with him since before Kenzie was born. She also bought her first car, a turquoise Mustang, from him and has babysat his two children.

    Fowler’s grandfather on her mom’s side was a basketball coach and shared an office with Candrea when he coached baseball at Central Arizona College, long before he started his softball legacy at Arizona.

    Fowler started playing softball when she was 6 years old, influenced by her parents and Wildcat softball. She began taking pitching lessons with CDO pitching coach Gale Bundrick twice a week when she was nine and participated in Candrea’s softball clinics.

    The athletic Fowler was a ballerina until fifth grade, played basketball and swam in middle school and even played volleyball as a freshman but decided it would be wiser to stick with softball after she missed three weeks of classes with USA Softball’s Junior National team during the 2006-07 school year.

    Fowler finished her freshman year at CDO with a 28-4 record to go along with a 0.13 ERA and 420 strikeouts in 210 innings of work. She also threw six no-hitters, four of which were perfect games, and 17 shutouts.

    After leading CDO to the state’s 4A-I state championship game before falling as the tournament’s No. 1 seed, Fowler was selected to the Junior National Team, and was the youngest player on the squad that won the Pan Am Championship with a 10-0 record. The team included UA freshman K’Lee Arredondo, as well as two high school seniors, Brittany Lastrapes and Lindsay Sisk, who have given Arizona verbal commitments for 2008.

    Now as a sophomore at CDO, she has helped her team reach as high as No. 1 nationally, as ranked by Student Sports Softball. She has gone 10-2 with a 0.30 ERA, 167 strikeouts, a pair of no-hitters and a perfect game to go with a .486 batting average and four home runs.

    Her mother said despite her daughter receiving so much national attention, the family doesn’t talk about it around the house.

    “”We’ve tried to keep her real grounded. We talk about the basic things like getting her room cleaned and the things that a 15-year-old girl should take care of,”” Kelly said before her daughter’s birthday. “”Around the house we really try to downplay it a lot.””

    An arm above the rest

    Despite playing with athletes who already compete for college teams, Fowler doesn’t think she’s quite ready to play at the collegiate level.

    Based on velocity, however, she is well beyond her age, and has even surpassed the speed – 65-66 mph – that college softball pitchers usually pitch. Fowler already averages 68 mph on her riseball.

    Finch topped out at 71 mph, and Fowler has already been clocked at 71 mph during a game against Tucson rival Ironwood Ridge last year, the equivalent to throwing a 100-mph fastball in baseball.

    “”I had a lot of adrenaline going,”” Fowler said. “”The radar flashed, and everyone in the dugout started yelling.””

    Fowler said she realized as a freshman that she had the chance of possibly being a Wildcat after she was selected to the Junior National team, playing with girls who had already committed to Division-I schools.

    “”I was like, ‘Hey, maybe I can go to U of A,'”” she said.

    Fowler said she watched all of last year’s Women’s College World Series won by Arizona on television. She believes that she will travel to Oklahoma City to compete for a national championship as a Wildcat, but she still has quite some time to think about it.

    “”It’s just like a far-away dream, just because it’s two years from now,”” she said. “”U of A is always in the World Series. To be a part of that one day will probably be the best thing that will ever happen to me. I was born to be a Wildcat. I have so many Arizona shirts in my closet, some that don’t even fit me anymore. That’s all I’ve known since I was little.

    “”Being able to go to the U of A to play softball is just every little girl’s dream in Tucson.””

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