Arizona softball's Del Ponte picks up the slack, responds to recent struggles
Consistency has long been considered one of the most desirable qualities a program can possess. However, what really distinguishes the good teams from the great is the way its top players respond to adversity.
For the Arizona softball team, which has lost five of its last six games, the burden falls squarely on senior Brigette Del Ponte.
The Wildcats have almost always demonstrated consistency — they’ve made it to the Women’s College World Series 22 times and winning eight championships over the past 25 years.
But this Tuesday, for the first time ever, the ’Cats dropped out of the ESPN.com/USA Softball’s top 25.
Briana Sanchez / Arizona Daily Wildcat UA softball ends with a final score of 12-2 against Univeristy of California Santa Barbra on Saturday April 6.
Arizona is struggling, and not coincidentally, so is Del Ponte.
The senior was an offensive asset for the Wildcats in her first three years, but has compiled career lows in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage this season.
“I am definitely not up to par with my standards,” Del Ponte said. “I’ve never hit in the .200s in my life, but it’s a learning experience. I just have to keep pushing myself.”
Right now Del Ponte is a mere shadow of her former self, hitting .239 with five homeruns, five doubles and 28 RBI. Last season: a .328 average, a team-leading 15 homeruns and 56 RBI.
Her only improved statistic through the first 47 games this season is her 12 strikeouts, down from 27 the year prior.
Del Ponte’s offensive slump doesn’t have head coach Mike Candrea worried, though.
“She’s done a good job,” Candrea said. “She’s come into her own this year and overall, has matured in her game. Her mindset is really good and while there are still places to improve, I’m proud of where she is.”
Just before the beginning of the season, Del Ponte was forced out of her comfort zone when she made the switch from third base to shortstop after former Wildcat Shelby Pendley unexpectedly left Arizona to play for No. 1 Oklahoma.
The added focus to the defensive side of the ball has left Del Ponte’s offense lagging, she said.
“I would definitely say that the transition from third to shortstop has taken a toll on my batting average,” Del Ponte said. “All preseason, I was focusing on learning what to do at short instead of on my swing; but at the same time, I can’t blame playing shortstop for my hitting.”
Second baseman Chelsea Suitos said she doesn’t agree that the position change has made an impact on the slugger’s season.
“This is her fourth year here and she is a big name,” second baseman Chelsea Suitos said. “Teams know how much of a threat she can be and they know how to pitch to her.”
Not everyone is struggling. Several underclassmen, such as sophomores Hallie Wilson and Chelsea Goodacre and freshman Lauren Young, have produced consistently this year.
Arizona just hasn’t fully tied everything together on the field and has been mercy-ruled three times in the past two weeks.
“We still need to tweak some things,” Candrea said. “The only people who can help us are ourselves. We have to find a way to keep the ball in the ballpark. We can make a statement by winning these final series.”
But it all comes back to Del Ponte. She enters the last nine regular season games of her collegiate career with her offense slumping and Arizona out of the rankings.
Her plan? Take a deep breath.
“I plan on relaxing and reacting,” Del Ponte said. “If I play my game and do what needs to be done, I’ll be in good shape.”