Column: Defensive struggles and inconsistent bats continue to plague Arizona softball
After a week that consisted of seven games for the Arizona softball team, the team’s identity is starting to come into focus.
Inconsistency has marked the Wildcats’ season so far. The team has fallen in the polls all the way to No. 20. An inconsistent lineup and untimely defensive errors hurt the Wildcats in recent weeks.
Giving up big innings was an unwelcome trend early on in the season. This weekend was no different. It cost the Wildcats their second match up with No. 8 James Madison University.
The Wildcats allowed four unearned runs in the first inning of their match up on Wednesday night. Arizona head coach Mike Candrea was disappointed with his team’s effort.
“The first inning killed us. You can’t afford to give a good team like that four runs,” Candrea said. “Not being ready and not playing the game well enough was the crux of it.”
The Wildcats struggled on the defensive side and it has cost them in big games. After defeating LSU at the Mary Nutter Classic a few weeks ago, it looked like the Wildcats came in to the season underrated and reloaded their pitching staff back to the point where the team could compete at the elite level.
Since then, the Wildcats have gone 2-5 against ranked competition and have split at the seams on defense.
There has been a lot of change in the lineup and defensive alignment to start the year. Some of that change comes from Eva Watson’s knee injury. The catcher position has been a rotation between Hillary Edior, Robyn Porter and Lauren Young so far this year.
Against Alabama, a wild pitch and an error on the catcher on the game’s final play cost the Wildcats a chance for a victory against a top-five opponent.
“We have a lot of things to clean up defensively, but that’s why you play the games,” Candrea said.
The team’s other defensive concerns come mostly from the infield. With a new player at each position to start the year, there were some growing pains, especially at the second base position.
The lineup has been a letdown for the team lately as well. The Wildcats struggled against top-tier pitching when they faced Tennessee, Alabama, BYU and James Madison. In the seven games Arizona played against those teams, it only scored 16 combined runs.
Rise ball pitchers have been a concern for the team so far. BYU’s McKenna Bull and James Madison’s Megan Good gave the Arizona lineup fits with the pitch.
Candrea said he believes a lot of the reason for these issues against the rise ball stem from the newly observed NCAA strike zone. Umpires are now calling strikes on pitches that are almost above the letters on a team’s uniform. It is something that Candrea believes other teams, particularly James Madison, have learned to take advantage of.
“They were throwing around [Mauga] Katiyana, to face [Alexis] Dotson, who couldn’t lay off the rise ball,” Candrea said. “When you’re sitting there and you’re watching it and you kind of know what’s going on, its frustrating.”
On a more positive note, Arizona has two freshmen who started to come in to their own and contribute to the team every night. Tamara Statman strung together some impressive starts over the past few weeks as the Wildcats’ designated player. Statman has a short, compact swing and also showed she possesses legitimate power.
Taylor McQuillin won the Pac-12 Conference Freshman of the Week award for her strong effort in the Wildcat Invitational. McQuillin went 2-1 over the weekend with a 1.94 ERA and had 22 strikeouts compared to just two walks. She defeated Mount St. Mary’s and the University of Texas at El Paso before falling to James Madison in another solid outing.
McQuillin established herself as the clear No. 2 starter for the Wildcats and with that comes great expectations. She is ready to take on her role as a key player for the Wildcats and wants to see the Wildcats fight through their latest setbacks.
“Our expectations [for the upcoming weekend] are higher than they have been, especially coming off a few losses like we have,” McQuillin said. “Small successes turn in to major victories for us at the moment, we just need to continue pushing through.”
The Wildcats will look to bounce back in Arlington, Texas, this weekend and will have a good chance to do so against the likes of No. 25 Texas and undefeated UT-Arlington.
Arizona begins its play on Friday against Samford University at 12:00 p.m.