Ashleigh Hughes is the lone senior in the starting lineup for Arizona softball and a player who’s been in the program for four years. She’s a leader, and for the beginning of the season, she was the Wildcats’ leadoff hitter. After falling into a seemingly insurmountable slump, the ‘Cats are hoping Hughes is back to being a productive hitter at the top of the lineup.
Hughes started the first few games of the season hitting over .300, but her production dropped off after that. Three consecutive 0-3 games dropped her batting average to .207. Hughes briefly returned to hitting above .300, but she went back under the mark after Arizona’s Feb. 24 game against the Oklahoma Sooners.
The senior’s slump reached a new low after the Oklahoma game. Between Feb. 24 and March 25, Hughes went 5-28 in 10 games. She went hitless in half of the games during that stretch. As a result, she was dropped from the top of the order all the way down to the ninth spot in the lineup.
Hughes seemed to be in the lineup simply because she was playing superb defense. Hughes made an error in the first game of the season, and that triggered a 23-game stretch without errors.
However, Hughes’ offensive slump seemed to break when Arizona hosted Cal from March 29–31. Hughes entered the series on a three-game hitting streak, one shy of her season high. She was promoted to second in the batting order, and the confidence head coach Mike Candrea showed in Hughes certainly paid off.
The first game against Cal on March 29 became her first multi-hit game since Feb. 23 against St. John’s.
The senior was rewarded for that performance by hitting leadoff the following night, going 2-5, and she hit leadoff again in the third game of the series but went 0-4 in Arizona’s 7-3 series-sweeping win.
The five hits Hughes compiled over the first two games of the series matched her total for the previous month.
Against the Oregon Ducks in the team’s most recent series, Hughes had one of the better weekends at the plate for the ‘Cats. In a weekend where Arizona only put up two runs over a three-game series, Hughes had an efficient 3-9 effort at the dish.
The last two series suggest Hughes is turning a corner in her season, leaving her slump in the dust.
Hughes is a .310 career hitter and is hitting .278 this season, which is way below last year’s career high mark of .386.
It will take a heroic effort to match last year’s average, but right now, Hughes’ resurgence is encouraging for an Arizona softball team that needs its best table-setter to be at her peak during conference play.
Follow Max Cohen on Twitter