Column: Arizona back on track in big way

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Sally Lugo | The Daily Wildcat

Arizona softball utility Katiyana Mauga (34) speaks with Arizona coach Mike Candrea during Arizona's 8-3 win against UNLV at Hillenbrand Stadium on March 4. After a struggling few games, the Wildcats have seen an uptick in offense over the past week.

After struggling to score against top nonconference opponents earlier this month, there was reason to be concerned that Arizona softball’s offense might take a step back from past years.

A group that has broken all sorts of NCAA scoring records failed to do any damage against highly ranked teams like Florida, Baylor and Auburn. Those three top-25 schools held the Wildcats to a total of three runs.

But, over the past two weeks, it looks like No. 17 Arizona is returning to its explosive ways at the plate. In the last six games, the UA is averaging around 10 runs and has knocked out 14 homers in a single game.

Over the weekend, Arizona put on a hitting clinic at New Mexico State, where the Wildcats swept a two-game series 14-2 (five innings) and 11-6 (eight innings).

The extra-inning win was a perfect example of the UA’s offense coming up with clutch and timely hits, as Arizona had to battle from a four-run, seventh inning deficit.

Small-ball allowed the Wildcats to put runners in scoring position before Chelsea Goodacre and Trish Parks delivered key two-out hits.

In the eighth inning, Arizona’s top power hitter Katiyana Mauga hit her 13th homer of the season to seal the lead. The dramatic comeback overshadowed the earlier win against the Aggies, in which Goodacre hit three homers and drove in five runs.

Arizona’s two victories signified everything that can go right when the UA receives production from everyone in the order.

By Arizona coach Mike Candrea’s design, the Wildcats have a lineup mixed with sluggers (Mauga and Goodacre) as well as contact-hitters like Hallie Wilson and Lauren Young who set up rallies.

But only until recently has the lineup worked the way Candrea wants it. Now, Arizona hopes to seep in the fruition.

The UA currently ranks fifth in the country with a .370 batting average. To give that mark some context, as of now it stands as the highest team batting average since 1998. Arizona also boasts a slugging percentage ranked No. 13 nationally and is 20th in the country with 1.35 homers per game.

While that’s quite not as dominant as the offense of last season, those are the kind of numbers the Wildcats need if they want to stay in the hunt for a Pac-12 Conference title and compete for a national seed.

The grind of conference play picks up this weekend when Arizona hosts nationally ranked ASU for a three-game series. In the coming weeks, the Wildcats will also face Pac-12 powers like Oregon, Washington and UCLA.

The boost in competition inevitably means tougher matchups at the plate.

With a young pitching staff still settling in, Arizona’s offense has to produce enough runs to keep the team in high scoring affairs. This isn’t a team that can rest on 1-0 or 2-1 scores.

If the Wildcats are going to make the Pac-12 championship and end their College World Series drought, it will be with consistent production from top to bottom of the order.

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Follow Ezra Amacher on Twitter.


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