Softball Wildcats struggle to adjust
Tyler Baker / Arizona Daily Wildcat
UA Softball took on UCLA this weekend and lost the series 2-1.
Arizona softball is having a historically bad season.
The Wildcats are on a five-game losing streak, have lost eight of their last nine and are 2-9 in the last 11 games.
The UA seems destined to get swept by No. 5 ASU this weekend, which swept the Wildcats the last two seasons. The UA has been mercy ruled four times this season to drop its record in run-rule games to 376-16 and that is surely going to rise this weekend.
Arizona dropped out of the main poll for the first time ever and will have its first losing season in Pac-10/12 history.
The program is in seriously good shape, however.
The Wildcats are in a massive rebuilding project and quite frankly, the fact that they have a decent shot to make the NCAA tournament is a surprise.
Prior to last season, Arizona lost 10 players. In 2012, the Wildcats had to get rid of long time assistant coach Larry Ray and remove Baillie Kirker from the team.
Of the six 2010 freshmen, like Kirker, only one made it to 2013 Senior Day.
Wildcat fans are accustomed to the softball team simply reloading, so a rebuilding job is a shock.
When sophomore Shelby Pendley suddenly transferred to Oklahoma around Christmas time, it further strained the young Wildcats.
Over her last 12 games, Pendley has hit 10 home runs, 31 RBI, scored 18 runs and hit four doubles. On Saturday, when Arizona stranded 14 runners (34 in three games over the weekend), Pendley had six RBI.
Her 18 home runs are already seventh on the Sooners’ single season list. Obviously the UA could have used her as its bats went silent of late.
The Wildcats chose to move senior Brigette Del Ponte to shortstop, over freshmen Lauren Young, Courtney Rodriguez and Mandie Perez and junior Alex Lavine, who started 44 games at shortstop and was All Pac-10 All-Freshman honorable mention in 2011.
The move effectively took Del Ponte, Arizona’s best returning offensive weapon, out of the line up as she had to rush to learn a new position. Her batting average has dropped about a 100 points from 2012 and her home runs and RBI are about half what she hit last year.
Every starter is new, like sophomore catcher Chelsea Goodacre, or in a new position, like Del Ponte. Lavine, who moved to centerfield, is adjusting to changing from a standard right-handed batter to a lefty slap hitter.
Then the UA lost senior pitcher Kenzie Fowler. Last season, Fowler, despite a back injury was seventh in strikeouts and opposing batting average in the Pac-12.
In 2010, she led Arizona to the national championship series.
The difference between the 2010 squad and this year’s team is stark. That year, an age balanced squad looked like it would be the UA’s ninth national champions.
This season, a young squad is finding some success, but more often struggling and panicking when it faces adversity because it isn’t used to failing.
Most of the young Wildcats have shown glimpses of promise, but sophomore outfielder Hallie Wilson, Young and Goodacre look like Wildcats of old.
As of April 29, Wilson was second in the Pac-12 in hits, sixth in batting average, fifth in on base percentage, third in doubles and fifth in walks. Goodacre was seventh in hits, third in RBI, sixth in homers and fifth in total bases in the league.
Young hit four home runs in one day in March and will play for the junior women’s national team.
Keep calm Wildcat fans. Next year, when the underclassmen have a year under their belts, a healthy Fowler returns, UCLA transfer Kelly Fox steps in as short stop and another crop of freshmen debut, Arizona should be run rulers again.