Wildcats softball determined to 'strike out' the competition
It is unclear if senior pitcher Kenzie Fowler will start the season healthy, and Nancy Bowling, an incoming freshman, was beamed in the face with a line drive last weekend, leaving the Wildcats with only two healthy starting pitchers.
Still, Arizona softball remains convinced that its two healthy starters can act as catalysts to jumpstart the Wildcats’ pitching staff.
This year’s rotation will feature juniors Shelby Babcock and Estela Piñon alongside Fowler and Bowling.
Fowler has been a key contributor for Arizona since breaking through as a freshman and compiling a 35-9 record in 44 games that year. Fowler has a career ERA of 1.95 in 127 appearances, and a 79-27 overall record. She’s struck out 794 batters over 652.1 innings.
But last summer, after battling a barrage of health problems, including back and foot numbness, Fowler went on the disabled list as she underwent a microscopic lumbar discectomy for a herniated disc in her back.
When she is healthy, she will return to act as the ace of the team and a valuable component of Arizona’s rotation. She is expected to return sometime in March.
Bowling represents one of two new faces in Arizona’s rotation. Bowling had a stellar high school career, where she struck out 246 batters, led her team to a 25-3 record and had a 0.43 ERA. It was no surprise when she ended up at No. 7 on ESPN’s Top 100 Softball Recruits and a front-runner to be one of the stars on the Wildcat staff.
“I think the addition of Nancy Bowling and Estela Piñon will add more depth to our lineup,” pitching coach Alicia Hollowell said. “Nancy is a very talented freshman who will see a lot of time this season, and Estela was successful in her past experiences at the junior college level. I look forward to seeing both of them step up and compete this year.”
Unfortunately, due to Bowling’s injury, it’s questionable at best whether she will appear in this weekend’s season opener at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe.
“It’s a little tough to tell how the rotation will really end up right now,” head coach Mike Candrea said. “Babcock and Piñon may be the only two going this weekend.”
Piñon excelled during her two years at Yavapai College, compiling a 51-6 record with 481 strikeouts and a 1.64 ERA in 346.1 innings pitched. In 2011, Piñon led Yavapai to victory at the NJCAA National Championship alongside current Arizona assistant coach and former head coach at Yavapai, Stacey Iveson.
She was awarded Yavapai’s team MVP and went on to be named the conference’s most valuable pitcher. Piñon followed suit in 2012 and was named conference player of the year and MVP.
“She was very good at the Yavapai and just has to step it up a little bit at this level,” Candrea said. “We expect good things from her. I think she will give us some quality innings and really grow into her role as the year progresses.”
Babcock will likely assume the leadership role to begin the season as she looks to recapture the success she experienced last spring. In 2012, Babcock put up a 21-10 record with 164 strikeouts and a respectable 3.02 ERA in 197 innings, and eventually emerged as the team’s number one starter.
“I just want to go out there, pitch my hardest and get batters out as much as possible,” Babcock said. “My biggest challenge is to not overthink the game. I only have a few more years here, so my goal is to just go out there and have a good time. I’m really excited for this year.”
As the opening week of the season begins, coaches and players alike are hungry to dig in and compete for another chance at a NCAA Women’s College World Series berth.
“I think we are going to have a pretty balanced attack,” Hollowell said. “We definitely have a strong pitching staff and our offense has shown great promise, so I’m excited to see what we do on the field.”