The last few days, Stacie Chambers has been feeling sick. So sick, in fact, that she canceled a trip to Hillenbrand Stadium to watch Arizona’s marquee matchup against Oregon.
Chambers wanted to go, even if it meant she was surrendering her claim to UA softball fame.
See, Arizona’s Katiyana Mauga is on the verge of tying, and breaking, Chambers’ career home run record of 87. Chambers has been watching Mauga’s record-setting pace from afar — well, New Mexico — while she plans a move to Phoenix.
“I haven’t been able to watch too many games, but I see it,” Chambers said. “I think it’s awesome that she’s doing that well. If I get passed by anyone, I’d rather it was a Wildcat than anyone else. I’m rooting for her because I know that feeling when you’re doing that well, it’s a great feeling.”
Chambers played five years at Arizona, missing her first year dealing with a concussion, and Mauga should accomplish the feat in four. Once Mauga passes Chambers on Arizona’s career list, she’ll set her sights on the NCAA record of 95, set by Oklahoma’s Lauren Chamberlain in 2015.
Mauga’s chase for power-hitting supremacy has been discussed all season long, but the San Diego native has never been one for self-adulation.
On Wednesday, Mauga was asked about the home run chase for the umpteenth time.
She smiled but shrugged it off. Like she always does. Mauga’s teammates are excited, the fans are in a state of suspense and the media won’t stop asking. Saturday and Sunday’s games will broadcast nationally on ESPN2, too.
All the same, Mauga just wants to win. Arizona needs the wins too — the Wildcats (43-3, 13-2 Pac-12) are battling with the Ducks for Pac-12 supremacy.
“I mean, it’s there. It’s always going to be there,” Mauga said of the chase. “I’m trying not to think about it and just going out there and trying to get on base for the team and produce, either getting base hits or walks, not so much home runs. If it does go over, it goes over.”
It tends to go over quite a bit, and with a consistency that college softball has never witnessed before. With Mauga’s next home run, she’ll be the first player to ever hit 20 or more home runs in all four seasons of her career.
“That stat in itself, I think, puts her in the discussion of who is the best home run hitter of all time?” said Pac-12 analyst Kenzie Fowler, a former Canyon del Oro High School and UA standout. “She’s in that discussion.”
Mauga hit 20 long balls as a freshman, 26 as a sophomore, 21 as a junior and currently has 19 with nine regular-season games remaining. She is not the typical all-or-nothing power hitter, either — Mauga has struck out only 12 times in 111 at-bats this season after only striking out 22 times in 167 at-bats last season.
Seemingly each “Mauga bomb” has meant something — 32 of her home runs either tied the game or gave the Wildcats a lead. She has five career walk-off home runs.
All of that together, and Mauga’s power-hitting prowess has made her something of a cult hero at Hillenbrand Stadium.
When she steps up to the plate, the crowd shouts “MAUUUUGA” in unison.
Mo Mercado, Arizona’s senior shortstop, has played with Mauga since they were both 13 years old.
“She’s always been the same slugger,” Mercado said. “I used to get mad at her because I’d be like, ‘I practiced five times this week what’d you do?’ And she’d be like “Oh, uh, I’m here, ready to go.’ … And then (she’d) go and hit like four bombs.”
Fowler pitched in the games when Chambers, a catcher, hit both the record-tying and record-breaking home runs in May 2011. Fowler was also a redshirt senior at Arizona in 2014 when Mauga was a true freshman.
Fowler still remembers what she thought the first time she met Mauga.
“When that (2014) class was coming in we were hearing about her and Mo (Mercado) and we heard some things about how, you know, this Kati girl, she could really hit it,” Fowler recalled. “So she comes in and if you look at Kati, she’s not tall at all.
“When she came on campus, she’s small in stature so you look at her and it’s like ‘this is the home run hitter?’ Then you see her in BP and you say, ‘Wow! She hits it.’ She uses every inch of her body.”
Consider: Chamberlain hit 95 home runs at 5-9; UCLA’s Stacey Nuveman, 6 feet tall, hit 90. Chambers is 5-11, and Arizona’s Laura Espinoza hit 85 at 6 feet tall.
Mauga is listed at 5-2.
“She’s not even 5-5,” Fowler said, “and she hits the furthest balls I’ve ever seen.”
This weekend, and every game until the season is over, there will be a lot of eyes on Mauga, tracking her every at-bat. The added pressure that comes with that hasn’t seemed to bother her so far, and UA coach Mike Candrea doesn’t think it’ll start any time soon.
“I’m happy for her,” Candrea said. “She’s done a good job so far of not letting it overwhelm her. I don’t want another Roger Maris thing to happen, so I check her hair every week to make sure it’s intact. …
“She’s a special kid.”
Chambers certainly knows that feeling.
All the questions, the attention, over this one statistic.
“Honestly, when I was playing, all I tried to do was go out and play my best. It’s not something you really think about,” Chambers said. “It’s there, we know it’s there. It’s a great honor to even be on that great list, especially with all the names that are on there. …You can tell she has her head on straight.”
Chambers doesn’t remember much of anything about her record-breaking home run, which came in an NCAA Regional game against Harvard at Hillenbrand. She hit No. 87 the next day against New Mexico State.
Even though it was the postseason, Arizona was expected to win those games, and the Wildcats did. For Mauga, it won’t be easy. Oregon’s pitching staff is stellar, and it’s possible the Ducks will prevent Mauga from breaking the record for at least one more week.
But Chambers thinks it’ll happen soon. She won’t be there to watch the UA-Oregon series but wants to attend Arizona’s games against Arizona State next weekend.
Whenever her record is broken, Chambers will be just fine with it.
“Kati, you can’t really question it … she’s kicked butt,” Chambers said. “It’s just a matter of her being focused. She’s on a roll, and I think she’s going to keep going. She’ll be on track to not only pass me up, and I have no issues with that whatsoever.”