Kenzie Fowler’s 2014 season got off to an inauspicious start.
The Arizona senior pitcher forgot her uniform in the locker room before the game; then, she sprinted off the field with two outs in the first inning.
Given her recent history, Fowler’s exuberance is understandable.
But the Canyon del Oro High grad did calm down, and behind a strong offensive output, she led the host Wildcats to a season-opening 9-0 win over Southern Mississippi on Friday night at Hillenbrand Stadium.
“I think I was a little too excited to be back out there with the team,” said Fowler, who redshirted in 2013 after microscopic lumbar discectomy surgery in Oct. 2012. “I’m just laughing about it now, but I really was so excited to be playing again.”
Fowler, who went 15-9 with a 2.85 ERA in 2012 as the team’s ace and was a 2010 All-American as a freshman, allowed two hits, walked two and struck out two in four innings on Friday before giving way to Michelle Floyd, who pitched a flawless fifth inning.
That was the plan all along, said Arizona coach Mike Candrea, who wanted to ease Fowler back into the swing of things.
Only against Fowler, it was more swing-and-miss. And it felt good. Great, even.
“It was so frustrating just watching,” Fowler said. “No athlete just wants to be in the dugout. I wanted to be out on the field. Watching my teammates, and the highs and the lows — the lows were so frustrating because you feel like everyone’s looking to you and you’re not out there to help your team.”
She was on Friday, even if the offense didn’t need much from her.
Arizona opened the season with hot bats, racking up nine hits and scoring in each of their four frames.
The Cats, who are looking to advance to their first College World Series since 2010, opened up the game with three first-inning runs and never struggled.
Player of the year candidate Hallie Wilson opened the bottom of the first with a beautiful single up the middle, and Chelsea Suitos lucked out when her check swing dribbled to the mound, allowing her enough time to reach first. Kellie Fox delivered the big bop with an RBI double down the left-field line, and Chelsea Goodcare and Kelsey Rodriguez followed with RBI groundouts.
“We have an offensive team that I think is the best we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Fowler said. “It’s really exciting ... knowing that they can keep me in the game no matter what I do.”
The Wildcats’ solid start extended into the second, as Courtney Rodriguez smacked a double down the left-field line, Alex Lavine sacrifice-bunted her to third and Wilson singled her home with a single down the right-field line.
“That is Arizona softball,” Wilson said. “We utilize the ground, we utilize the field, and that’s something maybe we were missing a little bit of — the smarts at the plate, knowing the situation, the count, everything. This year, it feels like we’re all smarter.”
Smarter all over, it seems, as the bottom of the lineup did about as much damage as the top. Courtney Rodriguez went 2-for-2 from the No. 8 hole and Lavine added a single and a run scored.
“It’s always one hit, one play, it doesn’t matter who it is,” said Fox, a UCLA transfer who went 2 for 3 with a triple, double and four RBIs.