Column: Pitching key to softball's season
Arizona softball pitcher Michelle Floyd (94) winds up during Arizona's 11-1 win over ASU at Hillenbrand Stadium on Sunday night. While Arizona's offense is dominant, the UA's pitching will determine how successful the season is.
Following Arizona softball’s series loss to ASU last weekend, it’s all the more clear the Wildcats will go however far their pitching takes them.
That’s a lot of weight to burden underclassmen Michelle Floyd and Trish Parks, but as the UA plows through the heart of Pac-12 Conference play, the pair must display greater consistency.
After a bumpy freshman campaign, Floyd leads the team in innings pitched (114), wins (16), ERA (2.70), complete games (nine), appearances (23), strikeouts (88) and batting average against (.220).
Parks, in her true freshman season, is right behind Floyd in every one of the aforementioned areas. Not to mention, Parks is one of the team’s most important offensive players.
Arizona looks like a team that can compete with anyone in the country when things are going well on the mound, as was the case in an 11-1 victory over ASU on Sunday night.
The Wildcats hit the ball well, as usual, sending four homers over the fence, and received contribution from top to bottom of the lineup.
But unlike the previous two games in the series that resulted in 8-5 and 9-4 losses, Floyd and Parks managed to pitch out of difficult situations on Sunday.
Floyd allowed ASU to load the bases twice, but the Sun Devils never managed to cross the plate over the three innings that she was on the mound. Parks’ only blemish came on an RBI single in the fifth inning.
Arizona forced the Sun Devils to strand 12 runners on base.
“We just have to get out of it,” Floyd said. “Throw strikes and trust my team behind me.”
Two nights earlier, Floyd was in a similar tough spot with no outs and the bases loaded in the seventh inning. Only that time, she gave up a go-ahead grand slam that would cost Arizona the game.
A day later, Parks only made it through three innings after allowing seven earned runs.
“The first couple of days, I thought they pitched scared,” Candrea said. “[On Sunday], we got out of a couple of big jams, and that’s the way these games are. You have to find a way.”
For a pair of young pitchers, those are the types of learning curves that are necessary, and even guaranteed to occur, when competing in one of the strongest conferences in the nation.
Now, with the calendar flipped to April, Arizona can no longer afford as much patience on the mound. Floyd and Parks must deliver in tight spots.
“Most of these kids are used to high school or travel ball where you have three hitters [that] can hurt you,” Candrea said. “Now you have nine hitters.”
The Wildcats currently find themselves sitting in the middle of the conference standings and at No. 16 in the national rankings with just a little more than a month left in the regular season. Not a bad position but not a great one, either.
Of course, it helps to have a lineup ranked in the top five nationally in batting average.
The next few weeks should be challenging and telling for the pitching staff, as a pair of road trips to Corvallis, Ore., and Salt Lake City, Utah, loom. The Wildcats will also host No. 19 Washington.
Execution at the plate must be matched with execution on the mound.
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