Arizona dominates Hillenbrand Invitational
For Arizona softball head coach Mike Candrea every weekend is a test.
After six games this weekend at the 17th annual Hillenbrand Invitational, Candrea said Arizona passed with flying colors.
The No. 24 Wildcats (9-0) won all six games and beat their four opponents by a combined score of 39-1.
“We need to keep embracing the process,” Candrea said. “One weekend doesn’t make a season.”
Junior Kellie Fox crosses home after a two-run blast against Tennessee State during the Hillenbrand Invitational at Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium on Saturday. Arizona beat the Tigers 10-1 in five innings in front of 2,471 fans improving their record to 7-0 for the season.
While a weekend may not make a season, it could be a launch pad. During the Hillenbrand Invitational, the Wildcats earned two victories over No. 4 Alabama (8-2). Arizona defeated the Crimson Tide 3-0 on Saturday night and 8-0 on Sunday.
“We’re not backing down,” shortstop Kellie Fox said about the team’s two wins over Alabama. “We know we’re a great team, and now we have something to prove it and build off it.”
In Saturday’s victory Arizona received a 5.0 inning, three-hit and nine strikeout performance in the circle from senior Estela Piñon, despite it being the Wildcats’ lowest-scoring game so far this season.
“She set the tone for the next day and fired us up and did a really amazing job,” said senior pitcher Shelby Babcock.
Babcock (2-0) started the second game against Alabama, matching her classmate by going 5.0 innings and allowing no runs on only two hits.
“Babs gave us a senior performance that I hadn’t seen in a while,” Candrea said.
With some help from a first-inning grand slam by freshman Mo Mercado, Babcock was able to cruise to the five inning run ruling of the Crimson Tide.
“We have five pitchers who can all go out there and perform,” Babcock said, “and we can all do it in different roles and situations.”
For Candrea, part of embracing the process means taking what the team learned from the previous game and improving on it to the next, not taking a step back after a loss — or in the Wildcats’ case, a win.
“Any time you can beat a quality team there’s a carryover, but my biggest concern would be how would we perform on [Sunday],” Candrea said. “[Sunday] was the statement. We got where we needed to again. We’re the aggressors, we’re the ones taking care of business.”
Fox said she was stunned with joy when she learned that her team had won six games by such a large margin.
She attributed an all-around good performance by the Wildcats for the success, but made sure to credit the defense.
“We had great defense this weekend and fed off that,” Fox said. “The good defense helped out the pitching, which carried into the dugout and helped give us success at the plate.”
Babcock echoed those statements.
Following Arizona’s 5-0 victory over Grand Canyon University in its sixth and final game of the invitational, Fox now leads the team with 18 RBIs and five home runs. She is also is hitting an even .500 on the season.
As the best run producer for the Wildcats so far, Fox looks set as the number-three hitter in Arizona’s lineup. Other roles are still being defined, but Candrea said he likes where this team is headed.
Candrea said he tells every one on the team that no matter their spot in the lineup or on the bench, there still is a role and job for them. He was pleased with how even the non-starters came in and performed, but also kept the energy alive in the dugout.
As for the pitchers, Arizona has five on roster who Candrea is getting more comfortable with throwing in different situations.
“We have five kids we can use at any time,” Candrea said. “That’s very valuable to us because we can mix and match and it’s never been that we had five pitchers of that quality, so it’s a good problem to have.”
EXTRA BASE HITS
Arizona now owns a 90-3 record at the Hillenbrand Invitational
—Follow Luke Della @LukeDella