In the newspaper business, season-in-review stories are called obits — as in obituaries. But that doesn’t feel right with a team that is still alive and kicking.
The Arizona softball team was a rambunctious group this season, loud and rollicking and powerful, a pack of bucking stallions. The offense was a raucous and wild good time. The pitching was sometimes just wild.
But as Mike Candrea congregated with his coaching staff and about half his players on Monday afternoon for the year-end meetings — he’ll resume the chore today — the tone wasn’t somber and morose, but rather anxious and excited.
The Wildcats’ season ended with a resounding thud on Saturday in Lafayette, Louisiana, at the hands of the ULL Ragin’ Cajuns, but that only has them raring to go.
“It was a major disappointment. Especially when you’re on the road, it’s a little bit tougher,” Candrea said. “I’ve spent all day doing end-of-year meetings, and putting a little closure on the season. For the seniors, we’re very sad we didn’t get them back to Oklahoma City, but for everyone else, it’s about taking the feeling we have and bottling it up and using it as motivation.”
The Wildcats, who finished 44-16, will enter next season with two things in their favor: a hunger to help the seniors avoid becoming the first group of graduating Cats without a Women’s College World Series berth in nearly 30 years and a lineup with the power to lift them to their goals.
Curiously, however, it was UA’s powerful offense — the one that led the country in home runs, scoring and slugging percentage and finished in the top three in batting average and on-base percentage — that came up short in the Super Regional against ULL and star pitcher Christina Hamilton.
Hamilton held Arizona to three runs Friday and just one Saturday, a dearth of scoring that has only happened two other times this year.
“I thought, truthfully, we outhit them the first night. We just gave up a three-run home run versus a solo shot,” said Candrea of the series-opening 5-3 loss, in which the Wildcats outhit ULL 7-6. “That’s usually what happens in the postseason as pitching get a little tougher and you’re playing good teams — the numbers should go down. I thought we swung the bat well. We just couldn’t, we really couldn’t, put an inning together where we had multiple base runners.
“You have to give credit to their pitcher.”
It’s no different from what Hamilton’s been doing all season long. It was just a surprise she did it against an Arizona team with a half-dozen All-Conference selections.
“She did a nice job of mixing it up well,” Candrea said. “The first night, she threw a lot of balls down in the zone, and we hit her pretty well. Second day, she got us up and with off-speed. We just didn’t match them pitch for pitch.”
It was a disappointing ending for a season that began with a bang. The Wildcats outscored their opponents 80-5 in a 10-0 start, and barely let off the gas pedal in non-conference play.
The Pac-12 was a bit of a different story, however, as the power-heavy Arizona lineup labored on the road. A win against top-ranked Oregon in the season-ending series helped the Wildcats prime for the playoffs, and they shined against a Tucson Regional field that included LSU, Boston University and Louisville.
And even though Hamilton and ULL sweated out the Super Regional win, Arizona is keeping it in perspective while trying to get a leg up on 2015.
“Of course you want to be that one team that wins it all, and you know it is only one team, but this team fought hard,” shortstop and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Kellie Fox said. “We have a lot of heart on this team, and I thought we came together in the end. But … it sucks to lose. It’s a heartbreaker.”
Not for long, though. They’re already on the mend, alive and well.