Arizona softball focuses on stolen bases amidst struggles
In a rare rollercoaster year for Arizona softball, the normally consistent Wildcats have failed to successfully pull together all facets of the game, and their playoff hopes are now in jeopardy as they go into the final two series of the season.
The Wildcats are 1-8 in their past three series and now will need to dramatically improve their game if they plan on making the playoffs. With the season’s end quickly approaching, Arizona is looking to pull a rabbit out of a hat as it will try to turn scattered hits into winning runs. As Arizona continues to struggle, stolen bases become even more important.
When a team is struggling and cannot rely on base hits to produce runs, stolen bases become a strategy to advance the runners to make a difference in the outcome of the game.
Head coach Mike Candrea said he agrees.
“Stolen bases can really have game changing effects,” Candrea said. “It’s something I wish we did more of. We need to try to bring in a little more speed than we have right now. It can make a big difference.”
This year, the Wildcats have repeatedly failed to support their pitching staff in key situations and if they want to succeed, they must learn how to offensively cash in with runners on the base path. This past weekend, Arizona fell in a 2-1 loss to Oregon State despite a three-hit complete game appearance from junior Shelby Babcock.
In the series against the Beavers, the Wildcats stranded 34 runners while only scoring three.
With so many scattered runners on, Arizona would be wise to cash in and make the most of its base runners by stealing in order to consistently get runners in scoring position for the person at bat.
“I honestly think we can do a better job,” sophomore Chelsea Suitos said. “We can steal more, especially if we are more aggressive on the base paths, but I think that Coach relies on our hitting more so we don’t give up any outs.”
Suitos represents a silver lining in Arizona’s lineup and has led the team over the past two years in stolen bases.
The Wildcats’ starting second baseman has swiped 25 bases in 26 attempts over her first two seasons and is a perfect 12 for 12 this year.
“[Stolen bases] are … complete momentum changers,” Suitos explains. “A stolen base puts a runner who’s on first in scoring position and it does a lot of positive things mentally for the team.”
Unfortunately, only a few players have mastered the science of stealing bases, leaving Arizona few opportunities to take advantage of the skill.
“We aren’t very notorious for speed,” Candrea said. “In softball, it is really difficult to get good jumps — we have a couple kids in Brigette [Del Ponte] and Suitos that can steal a base but other than that, we have average speed. It’s really not one of our strengths at this point.”
Del Ponte represents another Wildcat who possesses speed on the base paths. The senior has been a consistent threat on the bases over the past four years and has compiled 25 stolen bases in 33 attempts including 5-7 this year.
“Base running is one of my favorite parts of the game,” Del Ponte said. “We need to have a better strategy and more people who can help us out on the base paths.”