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Thursday, August 28, 2014 | Last updated: 4:08am

Softball: conquering the circle



A high-powered offense has led the No. 9 Arizona softball team to 39 wins and an undefeated record at home.

However, there are serious concerns over whether the pitching staff is able take the team deep into postseason play.

“Pitching and defense is what wins championships,” junior utility player Hallie Wilson said. “As long as we can keep runners off base, no more free passes … that needs to be a mentality we take on to the road.”

As Wilson implied, the Arizona pitching staff has been struggling mightily, and one of its major issues has been command. Over the past five games, the pitching staff walked the same number of batters (34) as it retired by strikeout (34). Those strikeout numbers would be much lower had senior Estela Piñon not had 11 strikeouts as a relief pitcher over the same stretch.

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Senior pitcher Estela Piñon strategizies with junior catcher Chelsea Goodacre during the game against Utah on Saturday at Hillenbrand Stadium. Piñon and fellow senior pitcher Kenzie Fowler are working on walking fewer batters.

Piñon has been by far the most consistent pitcher on the team, and has the full confidence of Arizona head coach Mike Candrea.

“Estela [Piñon] is just really competing her butt off right now,” Candrea said. “She’s matured a lot, she doesn’t hit the panic button and she can throw some strikes when she needs to. The thing about Estela is she’s got that extra velocity that can make it tough on hitters.”

After Saturday’s 11-7 win over Utah, Candrea and his coaching staff spent over 20 minutes huddled up talking about the pitching staff’s struggles.

Candrea said he doesn’t know what to expect from the majority of his staff.

That kind of uncertainty is exactly why Candrea pulled Saturday’s starting pitcher Shelby Babcock after 2.1 innings and Sunday’s starting pitcher Nancy Bowling after .2 innings.

“Outside of [Piñon] right now, we’ve got to keep plugging away with the process, and the next couple weeks will be a challenge,” Candrea said. “It may be a breakout time for some of them because we have to count on them.”

Of course, Piñon pitched in relief in both games, pitching 15.1 innings over the three-game series against Utah. Candrea said she’s pitched well, but the rest of the staff has not and needs to change that soon.

Among those who need to step up are Bowling and redshirt senior Kenzie Fowler. Both have had strong performances this season, but have struggled as of late. Of the two, it’s most important to get Fowler to return to her previous form.

The big issue with Fowler has been command and making sure she limits her walks. The right-handed pitcher has walked 75 batters in only 62.1 innings but allowed only 27 hits over that same stretch, which brings up the question: How good could Fowler be if she limited her walks?

“We’re working on it, and it gets very frustrating,” Piñon said. “Walks can kill us, so it’s something that we’re working on as a staff right now.”

Getting those walks down from Fowler could give Candrea the second pitcher he needs and put the Wildcats in a better place come postseason play.

—Follow Roberto Payne @HouseOfPayne555


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