UA SOFTBALL

Arizona softball: Candrea on 2014: 'Buckle up'

This season was just 'a bump in the road we've had to deal with'
2013-05-22T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:32:09Z Arizona softball: Candrea on 2014: 'Buckle up'Patrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 22, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Mike Candrea has never been in this position before: sitting in his office Tuesday, conducting year-end player interviews, while 16 teams across the country prepared for the NCAA tournament's super regional round.

His 33-26 Arizona Wildcats were eliminated by Baylor in Saturday's College Station, Texas, regional - marking the first time since the tournament was expanded in 2005 that the Wildcats failed to make the Round of 16.

For the third straight year, the UA failed to reach the Women's College World Series, afforded to the best eight teams in the nation.

Tuesday, the coach sounded resolute to not let it happen again.

"If I've gotta prove people wrong," he said, "then buckle up and get ready, because I will do it."

In his first of two days' worth of year-end interviews Tuesday, he told players how they could spend the offseason improving.

He was heartened by the fact that, Tuesday, in the start of the long offseason, players were already in the weight room.

"I was very blunt with (players) about, 'What's my return on my investment?'" he said.

"You turn it around the other way. 'I've made a strong commitment to you. Now, I need to get a return on this investment.'

"I think every kid here wants to be that person. It's sometimes just a matter of getting the right combination. It's amazing how one or two people can change the whole complexion of the team dynamic."

The Wildcats seemed to miss that this season. Be it the transfer of Shelby Pendley, a back injury to Kenzie Fowler or a recruiting misstep or two, there was no one to prevent the team from having the worst winning percentage, overall and in conference play, since Candrea took over in 1986.

"For 27 years, we've had a pretty damn good run here, and I don't plan on it going any other way," the Arizona Wildcats coach said. "It's a bump in the road that we've had to deal with.

"I've always been a survivor. I'm not going to sit back and feel sorry for myself. I'm trying to do the things we need to, to get back where we want to go. And that takes talent, it takes energy, it takes all the little things that built this program."

Although the Wildcats "played really good softball for a couple weeks" at the end of the regular season, Candrea said, they were still struggling with execution problems at the end of the season.

The 16-player roster lacked the depth to allow Candrea to tinker when players struggled.

"To be really honest with you, we had a few holes and we need to plug those holes up," he said. "Do we need better players? We always need better players.

"But we took a little bit of a fall on the recruiting trail. That's what we're dealing with right now."

There were times this season, he said, when the Wildcats overachieved.

However, by the end of the regular season, when the UA won four of six games, he thought the team was "starting to figure some things out" on the field.

"The bottom line," he said, "is that we didn't have a full deck that you need to be at this level."

He said his players - whom he described as hardworking and easy to coach - "feel as bad as anyone" about the season.

"The pressures on them; to help get this program back where it's at can be insurmountable at times with some of them, especially the younger ones," he said.

Candrea said he was already excited about next season, even while 16 teams across the country - some buoyed by the growth of the sport, SEC money, facilities and growing parity - are still playing.

"It's the time of the year that you almost sometimes took for granted that you were going to be where you needed to be," he said. "Maybe this is a good little wake-up call to get everyone rejuvenated and realize that it's getting tougher."

On StarNet: Follow all of the UA's sports online at azstarnet.com/wildcats

Not your usual Cats

Despite a winning season and a trip to the regional round, Arizona coach Mike Candrea's squad fell short of expectations:

3

Consecutive years Wildcats have failed to reach Women's College World Series

.559

Arizona's winning percentage, the worst in Candrea's coaching tenure

Three things that shaped the UA's softball season:

Pendley leaves

• What happened: In December, first-team all-Pac-12 shortstop Shelby Pendley - who hit .331 with 19 homers and 55 RBIs last season - announced her transfer, eventually landing at No. 1 Oklahoma.

• She said it: "Sometimes in life you have to make a decision that's best for you." - Pendley

• Fallout: Third baseman Brigette Del Ponte moved to shortstop and had the worst offensive season of her career. The Wildcats' lineup shakeup ended with a gaping hole in right field. Freshmen Courtney Rodriguez and Gabby Sandstedt went 10 for 86 with no homers and four RBIs. The two pitchers who occasionally hit instead of them - Nancy Bowling and Estela Piñon - combined to hit .206.

Pitching hurt

• What happened: Kenzie Fowler was never able to return from October back surgery and announced in March she would take a medical redshirt. Freshman Nancy Bowling suffered a concussion in a preseason scrimmage, missed the first five games and struggled to regain her form early in the year.

• They said it: "I'm not quite there yet. There's 'in shape' and there's 'game shape,' and I haven't had the fall work and the early spring work." - Fowler

• Fallout: The Wildcats' three pitchers - Bowling, Piñon and junior Shelby Babcock - posted a program-worst 3.90 ERA, with Bowling's 4.46 ERA the worst of the bunch. Fowler's 2.85 ERA last season would have been an improvement.

Losing streak

• What happened: The Wildcats began perhaps the worst conference stretch in their history - losing eight of nine - April 12 at Oregon. The UA was outscored 56-18, was the victim of both a no-hitter and a perfect game at Oregon, and fell from both of the sport's major polls for the first time ever.

• He said it: "It's an emotional roller coaster, and right now we're on the bottom end of it." - UA coach Mike Candrea

• Fallout: The losing streak guaranteed that the Wildcats would not be good enough to host a regional round, a major factor in the NCAA tournament. Thirteen of the 16 teams to advance through this year's regionals were at home. The Wildcats rallied to win four of their last six regular-season games, but had too difficult a road - literally - to the championship.

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4658. On Twitter @PatrickFinley

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