SOFTBALL

Arizona softball: New arms, slugger may lift Cats

2012-05-29T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T16:15:37Z Arizona softball: New arms, slugger may lift CatsPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 29, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The Arizona Wildcats will need some help if they want to return to the Women's College World Series.

Not that the UA doesn't have a solid base of players to build around.

Four freshman starters return next season, along with star Brigette Del Ponte and two pitchers.

The team will have four starting spots open, at least. Given that the Wildcats finished the season with only four bench hitters, expect incoming players to fill all those spots.

And the returners to help them.

"It's a great group that we're leaving," senior Lini Koria said. "And I'm not worried them at all next year. "

Here's a look at where the Wildcats will get help:

• Pitching. UA coach Mike Candrea explained after Saturday's season-ending super regional loss at Oklahoma that he removed Kenzie Fowler after 5 1/3 innings for a reason.

"She really hasn't been a seven-inning pitcher for us all year," Candrea said. "So there's some challenges that lie ahead for us."

Could she regularly last seven next year, as a senior?

"I think so," the coach said.

The uncertainty surrounding the Wildcats pitching situation makes two incoming hurlers that much more attractive. They will join Fowler, a senior-to-be, and Shelby Babcock, a junior-to-be.

The star is Nancy Bowling, from Royal High School in Simi Valley, Calif., who throws 67 mph and has a screwball, a riseball, a curveball, a drop ball and a changeup.

This high school season, she went 25-3 with a 0.43 ERA, a .116 batting average allowed and 17 complete games.

Estela Pinon is another familiar name. The Sunnyside High School graduate was named to the NJCAA All-American Team after starring at Yavapai College this year.

Pinon, who played for now-UA assistant Stacy Iveson her freshman year, finished this season 20-3. She was seventh in the country with 256 strikeouts.

After leading the Roughriders with 56 RBIs, Pinon could hit for the UA.

This much is certain: Arizona needs to improve in the circle.

"Pitching is still what it's all about," Candrea said. "I don't think you'll see anyone playing in the (WCWS) championship series that doesn't have pretty good pitching."

• Hitting. The Wildcats have a gaping hole at first base after senior Jessica Spigner played her final game and backup Baillie Kirker was suspended for violating team rules.

Enter Darcy Taylor, a first baseman from Jenks (Okla.) High School. The 6-footer hit .504 with 17 homers and 64 RBIs in her senior season, which was played in the fall. Taylor's family has since moved back to Arizona, where she lived until she was 9.

The Tulsa World's All-Metro Softball Player of the Year pitched, too, but will likely find a home in the middle of the UA order.

Last fall, the Wildcats signed four more hitters: outfielder Gabby Sandstedt from Independence High School in Glendale; shortstop Courtney Rodriguez of Seton Catholic High School in Scottsdale; infielder Lauren Young from Canyon High School in Anaheim Hills, Calif.; and utility player Mandie Perez from Whittier (Calif.) High School.

The UA's seven-player recruiting class is considered one of the nation's best.

• Intangibles. To play for Candrea, a coach who preaches the mental game, any incoming Wildcats will need to possess strong intangibles.

Koria believes the culture is in place to pass those ideals along.

"I have lots of confidence in our senior class next year," she said. "That they'll be able to lead the underclassmen really well.

"I think they have enough experience, with the freshman class we have this year."

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