Say goodbye to the roses and rainbows, Arizona softball team, it’s about to get a bit murkier.
The Wildcats head back on the road for a three-game set at Cal this weekend, leaving the friendly confines of Hillenbrand Stadium.
Friendly? We’re talking BFFs here, two-sides-to-a-heart-necklace-type love. Arizona is more comfortable at home than a kangaroo in the outback, 22-0 and coming off a three-game run explosion against Stanford.
Now comes the hard part: Adjusting their power game to the brutal road terrain that is the Pac-12, where the Wildcats have started 1-5 away from home.
“I’m hoping this weekend will be a breakout weekend,” said Arizona coach Mike Candrea, whose Wildcats open against the Bears at 3 p.m. today at Levine-Fricke Field. “‘It’s not like they haven’t ever played on the road. We went to Palm Springs, we went to Fullerton. But it’s a matter for us about being a quick starter on the road.
“We haven’t been real aggressive early in the game, in the first game. I think they understand the sense of urgency you have to have.”
In Arizona’s first two conference road trips of the year, the offense has sputtered badly — against UCLA on March 15, the Cats managed two hits in a 1-0 loss; at Arizona State on March 28, they struck out 16 times against Dallas Escobedo in a 2-1 loss.
Everyone, from senior to true freshman, has clenched the bat a little too tight, felt the sweat bead up at the brow.
That’s what happens when you take away the mammoth home-field advantage that the rabid Arizona fanbase offers. Now, the players have to find a way to energize themselves.
“It’s tough going on the road. We don’t have our amazing fan base,” Chelsea Goodacre said. “It’s a little different. We have to learn to take that in, learn how to get after it. We have a young team; a lot of the older girls know what it’s like and they’ve seen it. The only thing we can do is play our game.”
And that’s been a power game, as Arizona has bashed its way to the conference lead in batting average, home runs and runs scored.
Now if the Wildcats can only find a way to corral those walks. Arizona has offered free passes this season like raffle tickets, come one, come all.
The Wildcats have issued 164 walks this year, matching their offensive number.
How good has the offense been to support the wildness? Arizona has out-hit it opponents 356-170.
“It’s been a pattern of late; we’ve got to be aware of how it can affect us,” Candrea said. “Both (starting pitchers Kenzie Fowler and Estela Piñon) are smart enough to recognize it. Kenzie is very comfortable with putting runners on base, especially the meat of the order.”
With a relatively short workweek and little live action — Candrea said the Wildcats went live just once this week — Arizona pitchers have been unable to get to the root of the problem, if there even is one.
“It’s one of those things the more you talk about, the worse it gets,” Candrea said. “They understand the situation. All you can do is show them the results of what happens and try to correct it.”
Sounds a little bit like Arizona’s play on the road.
The Wildcats know what has plagued them, and what they need to correct it.
“This is very important — it separates great teams from good teams,” Candrea said. “Every game we approach the same way, at home or on the road, but I know in the scheme of things, how important these wins are.”