Arizona softball: Cats' lefties face a tough task

Oklahoma's Ricketts poses a challenge for many Arizona hitters
2011-05-27T00:00:00Z 2011-05-27T17:28:47Z Arizona softball: Cats' lefties face a tough taskBy Patrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 27, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Facing a left-handed pitcher is worse for Brittany Lastrapes than doing chores, going to the dentist or any of life's annoyances.

"It's, like, my least favorite thing to do in the whole world," she said. "I hate it."

Oklahoma left-hander Keilani Ricketts can make the experience more unpleasant.

"She's not my favorite pitcher to hit off of," Lastrapes said. "Or attempt to hit off of."

The Arizona Wildcats will need to find a way to hit Ricketts in the NCAA tournament super regional, if they hope to reach the Women's College World Series for the 23rd time in 24 years.

"I think a big part of this game," UA coach Mike Candrea said, "is being comfortable being uncomfortable."

If there is a theme to the best-of-three series, which starts tonight at 8:30 at Hillenbrand Stadium, it is exactly that.

The Wildcats (43-16) don't see left-handers often - about once every five at-bats. It becomes a direct threat to the No. 8 seed's traditional dominance when you consider that three of the UA's top four hitters are left-handed, as are four of its seven season-long regulars.

This year, Lastrapes has hit .456 off righties, but .189 against lefties.

Fellow lefties Lauren Schutzler, Stacie Chambers and Karissa Buchanan have fared better, though the sample size this season is limited to fewer than 40 at-bats.

The UA hits 35 points higher against right-handers, though it had success against Texas Tech's lefties during the regional round. In 26 plate appearances, the Wildcats had six hits, eight walks and six runs, and struck out only once.

Schutzler said Ricketts' speed and ability to throw inside "kinda limits my options" as a slap hitter. Ideally, Schutzler tries to chop a ball pitched toward the outside half of the plate.

"Hopefully, we're prepared," Schutzler said. "And we can make some adjustments, looking to put the ball in play."

The Sooners' 6-foot-2-inch single-season strikeout leader has faced the UA three times, twice this year.

Last season, she gave up four runs, one earned, in 6 2/3 innings while striking out eight and walking seven.

This year, she allowed a combined four hits and one earned run over six innings, striking out 13 in two Oklahoma (41-17) victories.

Ricketts will pitch to a new target - catcher Katie Norris, who had played first base, outfield and designated player before replacing cleanup hitter Jessica Schults, who is out with an illness.

"I have a good feeling about this," Buchanan said. "I'm really glad we've seen her twice already.

"Third time's the charm."

All week, Candrea has preached aggressiveness, but with a caveat.

Because Ricketts pitches to both corners of the plate - if not off it - Candrea said his hitters have to use "a little element of guess, or of anticipation" before the pitch. He told his hitters to try to drive pitches, even if they're a bit off the plate. Putting the ball in play will be key, Candrea said, because teams with strikeout pitchers "tend to not get challenged a lot defensively."

Ricketts has struck out 423 and has walked only 74.

"She (throws) 70 mph, and she's going to nibble," Candrea said. "If she gets a wide zone, she's going to be very tough to hit against."

The Wildcats will counter with Kenzie Fowler, who allowed only two runs during three regional wins.

The Wildcats' aggregate score of 28-2 was the most lopsided among all regionals. The UA doesn't expect a repeat.

"We're not going to shut them out," Schutzler said. "We're not going to score 10 runs."

Hitting against Ricketts might be a chore. But the Wildcats won't mind the discomfort if it leads to a win.

"I feel like we can't have it any better than we have it right now," Candrea said. "The scene's set. It's just a matter of us taking advantage of it."

On StarNet: See how the UA softball team has fared in the postseason over the years at azstarnet.com/online/databases

Situations that might decide the outcome

The super regional won't be decided by pitching alone. Here are three factors to watch for:

Cleanup hitter out

All-Big 12 player Jessica Schults, the Sooners' cleanup hitter, home run leader and everyday catcher, won't play this weekend because of what the team calls an illness.

Katie Norris, the team's designated player for most of the year, replaces her.

"I think (pitcher) Keilani (Ricketts) has really gotten comfortable with Katie," coach Patty Gasso said.

Home field

The UA has hosted super regional play in six of its seven years, winning 10 of 12 games and taking every series.

But Gasso's not intimidated by the venue or the heat.

"This is a team that loves to play in front of crowds, that enjoys working as the underdog," she said.

Unknowns

The UA's starting shortstop, between walk-on freshmen Alex Lavine and Ashlee Brawley, will be announced today.

Part of the fun of the playoffs, Candrea said, is finding an unexpected contributor.

"We've always had, kind of, new heroes every postseason," he said.

Patrick Finley

The schedule

• What: NCAA super regional

• Who: Arizona vs. Oklahoma

• Where: Hillenbrand Stadium

• TV: Today at 8:30 p.m., ESPNU; Saturday at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., if necessary, ESPN

Today

• Who: Oklahoma at Arizona, Game 1

• When: 8:30 p.m. on ESPNU

struggles vs. sooner

A look at Oklahoma pitcher Keilani Ricketts' three appearances vs. the Wildcats:

Date IP H R ER BB K

March 19, 2010 6 2/3 7 4 1 7 8

Feb. 12, 2011 5 2 1 1 0 10

March 17, 2011 1 2 0 0 0 3

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