Arizona played three sophomores and four freshmen, including pitcher Nancy Bowling (6). "We're young, but that's not really an excuse," UA senior Brigette Del Ponte said.


COLLEGE STATION, Texas - The goal, as stated by coach Mike Candrea each year, goes something like this: Play on the last day of the softball season.

Win or lose, reaching the Women's College World Series final best-of-three series always seemed like a reasonable task for the eight-time national champion Arizona Wildcats.

The UA did just that in Brigette Del Ponte's freshman year - a series defeat to UCLA that, were it not for two Wildcats colliding on a fly ball that would have been the Bruins' final out, might have gone the other way.

Del Ponte never made it back to Oklahoma City.

The Wildcats' sudden WCWS futility reached three years Saturday when, on a campus famous for its employees saying "Howdy," the Wildcats were told goodbye.

After two straight years of losing to Oklahoma in the super regional, the Wildcats didn't make it even that far this year, being eliminated by Baylor, 8-4, in the regional round at Aggie Softball complex.

Saturday, the Wildcats' only senior removed her UA uniform for the last time.

"We're young, but that's not really an excuse," Del Ponte said after the UA was beat by a freshman, Baylor pitcher Heather Stearns. "We're missing, if anything, I would say it'd be that drive. That mean attitude. Being aggressive."

Candrea said the best teams are built from the inside-out, with a strong attitude coming from players, not coaches. This year's squad wasn't like that.

"We need to get some players that have that nasty streak in 'em, that love to compete, that want to win so bad that they understand why they do things," Candrea said.

They also need better players - a roster management challenge, given that only Del Ponte is set to not return next year. At least as of now.

"With the talent that we had, we overachieved at times," Candrea said. "We have a few holes. Too many holes.

"And you can't play the game at this level with too many holes.

"In today's world you better be strong 1 through 9. ...

"The pitching - we're young, but the young isn't an excuse. There's a lot of young kids that come in and play very well.

"We just struggled from Day 1, just trying to put the game together."

That applied to Del Ponte, but only in one sense.

Shifted to shortstop when All-American Shelby Pendley abruptly transferred in December, and assuming the sole mantle of leadership when Kenzie Fowler couldn't return from back surgery, Del Ponte carried a heavy load for the 33-26 Wildcats.

But offensively, she struggled, hitting career lows with a .243 average, six homers and 34 RBIs.

"Brigette brings stability," left fielder Hallie Wilson said. "Everything about Brigette is consistent and stable.

"She doesn't get overly emotional when she gets out or when she does something phenomenal.

"She's always the same. And Brigette is as great of a player as I'm ever going to play with."

Candrea called Del Ponte "a good player for us for four years" who had "some great moments" during her career.

"I really commend her for what she did this year, stepping in and playing shortstop," Candrea said. "I thought she did a remarkable job for us there. Struggled offensively, but Brigette will be a Wildcat forever."

Saturday was bittersweet.

Del Ponte isn't done with softball - she'll play for the Akron Racers of National Pro Fastpitch this summer.

Maybe, she joked, she'll dye her hair a funky color, or get a nose ring - two things verboten by UA team rules.

"There's always softball in my future," Del Ponte said. "But it's sad - this is the last time I'm going to wear this uniform. I had my four years. I had so much fun."

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