No. 17 Wildcats softball to host No. 5 California in stiff test
Arizona softball faces a stiff test in its first midweek series in California: a team that can pitch, field and hit well.
The No. 17 Wildcats (23-11, 3-3 Pac-12) host No. 5 Cal (27-3, 3-0 Pac-12) for a three-game, two-day series, starting with a doubleheader today at 5 p.m. All three games will be on the Pac-12 Network.
“Cal’s a very good team. We’re gonna have to play our very best games to compete with them, to tell you the truth,” head coach Mike Candrea said.
The Golden Bears received two first place votes in the ESPN.com/USA Softball media poll and is No. 5 in the NFCA Coaches’ rankings. While Arizona went 2-1 against Utah in Salt Lake City, Cal swept the Utes in Berkeley in its Pac-12 action this year.
Tyler Baker / Arizona Daily Wildcat UA softball beat Washington Sunday afternoon after losing to them on Saturday. The will face Washington again Monday night at 7:00
Senior pitcher/first baseman Jolene Henderson (23-2) and senior catcher Lindsey Ziegenhirt lead the Bears.
“They’re pretty solid offensively, pretty solid defensively and very solid on the mound with Henderson, so anything less than our ‘A’ effort is not going to be enough,” Candrea said.
Cal was tabbed as the favorite to win the conference before the season by the coaches, topping second place Arizona State 62-56 and 7-1 in first place votes. The UA was picked fifth.
Cal is the reigning Pac-12 champion and features the 2012 Pitcher of the Year in Henderson. Ziegenhirt was selected Pac-12 as the Player of the Week last Monday and Henderson has won Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week twice this year.
The Bears are 4-0 in road games and Arizona is 14-2 at home. The Wildcats are 1-8 against ranked teams.
As of Sunday, Cal was No. 6 in the nation in ERA with 1.42 and eighth in fielding percentage, 0.979. Ziegenhirt was tied for fifth in home runs per game with 0.43 and seventh in slugging (0.946) and Henderson was fourth in ERA (0.90) and second in wins.
“It will be challenge and we’ll have to see if we’re up to it,” Candrea said.
Henderson is a candidate for the Senior CLASS Award and is on the USA Softball Top 50 Watch List. Senior shortstop Brigette Del Ponte and sophomore first baseman Hallie Wilson are the Wildcats in the top 50.
The Bears have only played four games since March 16, the Utah series and Saturday at Sacramento State, a 1-0 win. The UA on the other hand played five games last week, going 2-1 at Utah and 1-1 against No. 15 Washington.
Candrea didn’t think the timing of the series, which falls on Tuesday and Wednesday instead of the usual weekend, would have much effect on it.
“I don’t know, both teams are playing in midweek. Whoever comes to play is going be the victor. Everyone in the league plays midweek games,” Candrea said.
The series could also help determine the ace that Arizona has been trying to find since senior Kenzie Fowler had what turned out to be a season-ending back surgery in the fall. Pitcher Estela Piñon (8-3) shined over the weekend at Utah, shutting down the Utes in a 2.2 inning relief appearance Saturday afternoon after pitching 11 innings Friday night.
“So maybe we found our No. 1 right now and it’s coming at a good time, because we’re gonna need it,” Candrea said.
Freshman pitcher Nancy Bowling (4-3) did strike out a career high 10 in five innings against No. 1 Oklahoma during spring break though. Junior Shelby Babcock (10-3) led the UA to a win last year at No. 1 Cal with a three-hit complete game.
Del Ponte picked up by pro team
The Akron Racers selected Arizona softball senior infielder Brigette Del Ponte with the first pick in the fifth round of the National Pro Fast Pitch draft Monday night.
Del Ponte is batting .242, has 20 RBI, a .434 slugging percentage, .369 on base percentage and .955 fielding percentage after moving from third base to shortstop this year. Del Ponte is on the 50-player watch list for USA softball Player of the Year.
The fifth round was the last of the draft and Del Ponte was the 17th overall pick for the four-team league. The NPFP starts the season in June.