Early exit for Arizona softball seals historically bad season
After suffering through his worst season in years, Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea feels like the frustration will turn into determination as the team tries to avoid a similar slump.
The Wildcats (33-26, 9-15 Pac-12) were eliminated by Baylor in the first round of the NCAA tournament, going 1-2 in the College Station Regional. This was the first time that the UA didn’t make it to Super Regionals, as well as the first time it didn’t win a Regional since 2004.
“We were very disappointed to be honest with you,” Candrea said about the 2013 season. “We could never get all facets of the game going. [We] had a few holes that we need to get better at and that’s what we’re attempting to do right now.”
The UA’s 33 wins is its lowest since it went 27-13-1 in Candrea’s first year in 1986, and this was its worst postseason finish since 1987.
Arizona did win its last two series though, at home against then-No. 5 ASU and at then-No. 13 Stanford, rebounding after slipping to last place in the Pac-12 after being swept by Oregon State.
“I think we grew a lot, just as a team understanding where we needed to be, for next year,” junior catcher/first baseman Kelsey Rodriguez said. “We understand where the downfalls were, I guess, and where we need to be and what we need to get there.”
Arizona fell out of the ESPN/USA Today Softball Collegiate Top 25 rankings for the first time in program history. Still, the Wildcats were competitive against the College World Series field, going 4-7 in the season.
“We’re not that far off, we just need to build some consistency,” Candrea said. “We just need a deeper line up more than anything.”
The UA lost two of its best players right before the season started when sophomore shortstop Shelby Pendley transferred to Oklahoma and senior ace Kenzie Fowler was forced to redshirt because of back surgery.
“Anytime you lose good players it can affect you,” Candrea said, “but I really felt that there were times that we played well enough to compete with anyone and just couldn’t sustain it.”
Pendley was named Big 12 Player of the Year, beating out her Sooner teammate Keilani Ricketts, the 2012 and 2013 National Player of the Year. Oklahoma won the Women’s College World Series on Tuesday night.
To replace Pendley, Arizona’s lone senior, Brigette Del Ponte moved to shortstop, cramming to learn the new position as spring practice started in January.
Del Ponte’s batting average dropped from .328 to .241, her RBIs fell to 34 from 56 in 2012 and her home runs dropped from 15 to six. However, Del Ponte’s fielding percentage actually rose from .943 in 2012 to .952.
With Del Ponte in her new position, Arizona featured an entirely new starting line-up.
“We had a lot of young girls and next year will be something different for sure,” junior pitcher Estela Piñon (13-8) said.
Sophomore outfielder/first baseman Hallie Wilson and sophomore catcher Chelsea Goodacre were named first-team All-Pac-12, while third baseman Lauren Young and outfielder Mandie Perez were named to the All-Freshman team.
Candrea said he felt like the underclassmen often panicked when things didn’t go their way.
“I think a lot of times young kids don’t know what they’re getting into until they get into it,” he said. “So hopefully all these freshman and sophomores will be better.”
Wilson to tryout for Team USA
After being one of the most impactful players for the Wildcats, Wilson was invited to tryout for the USA National team June 10-12.
She led Arizona in batting (.372) and had an on base percentage of .476 as team’s leadoff hitter.
Wilson is one of six sophomores on the 32 player tryout list, which includes 26 juniors, seniors or college graduates competing for 17 slots.
Young will play for the Junior National team, while freshman pitcher Nancy Bowling is an alternate.