She’s always had the full heart, that’s for certain.
On Sunday, as she said after her 13-5 win over LSU in the NCAA softball playoffs and then repeated during a Tuesday media session, Shelby Babcock felt as if she couldn’t lose.
But the clear eyes part has always been a bit of a problem.
For years, Babcock couldn’t get the worry out of them, couldn’t shake the nerves, the fear of letting her team down. So, in addition to the famed “Friday Night Lights” mantra — “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” — that she has written on the bottom of the brim of her Arizona visor and hears before every game from teammate Hallie Wilson, Babcock has a new motto.
Simple, concise, a pair of words that explain every errant pitch or surrendered home run.
In an era when softball bats have turned into fungo bats, Babcock has learned to release the worry and shake out the stress.
“It’s just, ‘So what? On to the next pitch, then on to the next pitch,’ ” said the Wildcats’ No. 2 starting pitcher, whose win over the Tigers sent Arizona into its super regional matchup at Louisiana-Lafayette this weekend. “I used to be so hard on myself. I’m so passionate about this game, I get so mad, and sometimes I show it. I have my coaches over there saying, ‘So what? So what?’ ”
The strategy worked against LSU, which got its blows in against Babcock but never rung her bell. The senior allowed five runs on six hits against the Tigers but managed to limit the damage when they threatened. Earlier in her career, it might not have gone so smoothly.
Heck, even earlier this year, she may have crumbled.
But Babcock has also had dazzling moments throughout her career, as well: the four-hitter of Nebraska early in her junior year, the five-inning shutout gem over North Dakota State in the first game of the 2012 playoffs as a sophomore, the shutout win at Washington earlier her sophomore year.
And this February, she dealt powerhouse Alabama — the No. 2 seed in this year’s college softball playoffs — its first mercy-rule loss in three years.
“She started the season hot, throwing a great game against Alabama, but sometimes when you get touched up a little bit, it’s tough to know you can still get it done,” said Alicia Hollowell, a former UA ace and current assistant coach. “To get back out there and to get it done gets your mojo flowing again. You feel good.”
Mike Candrea knows more than anyone the ebbs and flows of the game, and he has attempted to stay ahead of impending danger. He pulled Babcock after three innings against Boston University in the Wildcats’ playoff opener Friday, worried that a third-inning grand slam by Boston’s Chelsea Kehr would throw Babcock off her game.
“She’s a pleaser, and a lot of our staff are pleasers, and those are the kinds of people who care a lot about what others think, and sometimes, as a pitcher, you can’t worry about what others think,” Candrea said. “You have to worry about what you think and what you need to do.”
It seems like the last person to find out softball was now a game for mashers and bashers was Babcock herself. Admittedly too self-critical, Babcock is in the process of telling Babcock that opposing offenses are sometimes going to get their blows.
“People don’t understand why it’s not like the good old days when we used the white ball with the high seams,” Hollowell said. “What people do now would be a weak fly out in the outfield. So she has to have some of that ‘So what?’ mentality.”
At some point, it went from mentality to mantra.
And Babcock and the Cats may be better for it.