March 29, 2004
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The Arizona softball team enters the meat of its schedule - conference play - with a three-game Pac-10 home stand. UA plays the No. 6 Washington Huskies (24-7) Friday night, No. 2 UCLA Saturday night and UCLA Sunday afternoon. Washington is the team that gave UA its only loss of the season, 7-6 in the title game of the Kia Klassic in Fullerton March 21. The Bruins (26-1) were the top-ranked team in the country until a March 14 loss gave Arizona the top spot. The Bruins play Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday in Los Angeles and at Arizona State Friday in Tempe before its action at Hillenbrand Stadium in Tucson. Sunday's game will be televised by CSTV.
Larry Ray (Idaho State '74) is 36-1 in his tenure as acting head coach of the Wildcats. Including five seasons (four of competition) building a Florida program he has a career record of 205-107. His work with the Arizona program dates to 1986 and he was Candrea's top assistant for 10 years. Acting associate head coach Nancy Evans, a former Honda Award winner as a player, has been an assistant at UA since 1999. UA's start of 34-0 to open the year gave Ray the best start in Arizona history.
Arizona's Mike Candrea carries a career record of 982-191 in 18 years at UA, but put it on hold this season while he's on partial leave to be head coach of the U.S. Olympic Team. The eight-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year is a member of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He has led Arizona to six national championships and seven Pac-10 titles. Candrea has led UA to 16 consecutive College World Series.
The Cats welcomed Mike Candrea and Team USA for an exhibition game on Friday, and saw why the club is the two-time defending Olympic gold medalist. Former UA star Jennie Finch struck out 13 in five innings of one-hit pitching to get the 6-1 victory, though she did give up a home run to UA freshman Kristie Fox - the only run scored off Finch in the Olympians' 25-0 "Aiming for Athens" tour. The U.S. team had only six hits but little trouble getting some runs against UA's Alicia Hollowell, mostly with short-game and gap hitting. On Saturday, UA slipped past former players in the annual Alumni Game, 2-1, in five innings. On Sunday, the Cats returned to regular-season play and swept Nevada-Las Vegas, 11-3 (6 innings) and 6-4. Hollowell came on in relief in the second game with the game tied 4-4, and earned her 23rd victory of the year by retiring all 10 batters she faced - nine of those on strikeouts. The Cats banged out 23 hits in the two games including 14 in the first game, to hit .423 in the series. The victories moved UA to 36-1 on the year, one of its best starts ever. The 1994 team started the year 31-0 and moved to 41-1 before losing a second game, the best in UA history. The two official games in one week marked a lull in UA's season. It had played in six tournaments and had one three-game series in each preceding week of the year.
UA held on to the No. 1 ranking last week, giving it the top spot in the NFCA poll at least once every year since 1993. Arizona was ranked No. 2 in the preseason NFCA poll, and No. 3 in the ESPN/USA Softball poll. Feb. 11: 2/3. Feb. 18: 2/3. Feb. 25: 2/2. March 3: 2/2. March 10: 2/2. March 17: 1/1. March 24: 1/1. UA has been ranked steadily since 1988 by the NFCA.
Players of the Week
Pitcher Alicia Hollowell earned the Pac-10 weekly honor four times this year - Feb. 24, March 2, March 9 and March 22. She also was USA Softball National Player of the Week March 22 after five victories at the Kia Klassic. Outfielder Autumn Champion won league Player of the Week honors Feb. 17 and Wendy Allen won Feb. 24. Those are the 88th honors for UA, and ninth for Hollowell.
Wildcat Softball Notes
...Reality check arrives this week. Last year UA hit .303 in 21 Pac-10 games. The Cats take a .357 mark into the weekend, but now face the likes of Washington's Tia Bollinger or Ashley Boek - who combined to beat UA in Fullerton -- and UCLA's Keira Goerl (15-0, 0.39) and Lisa Dodd (10-1, 0.48), etc. The hits won't come as easily in the next six weeks of league action... Of course, all league teams were ranked last week and that's likely this time around, too... ...Alicia Hollowell has a live streak of 21 and two-thirds scoreless innings pitched entering the weekend. She won her second game in relief Sunday, pitching to 10 batters and striking out nine. She has allowed only one run in the past 28 and two-thirds innings pitched... Her season ERA is at 0.52 and she has 302 strikeouts in 149 innings pitched - 14.2 per seven innings. That's the fourth-best season total in UA history. She's 92 K shy of the school record she set last year with 394 in 297 innings... her 23-0 record is six victories short of reaching the UA season Top 15 chart - atop which she sits with her 40-5 mark in 2003... With 63 career victories she already has won more games than all but six Wildcat All-Americans... She has struck out 10 or more 17 times this year, including a school-record 20 in a perfect game against Indiana... She has 17 or more K four times... ...Arizona has a team fielding percentage (.972) that's better than five of the six UA clubs that won NCAA championships. The 2001 titlists set the school record with a .981 mark, the third best in NCAA history... UA led the nation last year with a .976 mark...The Cats have only three errors by its outfield and one by catcher Mackenzie Vandergeest... ...The Cats continue to steal bases, with seven last week, pushing the season total to 103 in 117 attempts. That figure is the seventh best season total in UA's 23 seasons of Division I ball... The record is 136 by the 1998 team. Freshman leadoff hitter Caitlin Lowe leads the way with 38 thefts in 39 tries, already the sixth-best season total in Wildcat history. Ten more moves her past Lauren Bauer (38 in 2000 and in 2001), Vivian Holm (41 in 1990) , Bauer (43 in 1997) and Alison McCutcheon (47 in 1997) into the No. 3 spot... Autumn Champion is behind Lowe with 22 SB in 25 tries... ...Champion and Lowe are contending for the team batting lead, with Champion back on top the past two weeks, now at .500... She was a first-team All-America pick as a freshman in 2003 when she hit .434... Lowe is hitting .482 and leads the team with 55 hits, 10 for extra bases...Lowe has a marvelous runs:hits ratio of 1:1. She's scored 55 times... ...Three-hole hitter Wendy Allen continues to lead the team in runs batted in, with 53, plus has the best slugging percentage at .775... She could reach a hallowed run-production list - the season top 10 chart - with continued success. Every UA player on the list earned first-team All-America honors those seasons. No. 10: Leah Braatz with 78 RBI in 1997... Odds & Ends... Arizona has a nice edge in scoring - 277 runs to 42 by opponents... UA set a school record with seven home runs against Boston University this year... Vandergeest slugged her second grand slam of the year against No. 7 Oklahoma two weeks ago. She's No. 4 in UA history with 55 career blasts... Jackie Coburn, a junior, is one yard-ball shy of reaching the No. 10 spot with 40... Lowe and Champion have two or more hits in 16 different games, but freshman shortstop Kristie Fox is picking up the pace with 12 two-or-mores... UA has trailed in only five games this year - vs. Missouri, Stanford, Georgia, Mississippi and Washington... ...Arizona has three no-hitters this year - two by Alicia Hollowell (perfect game against Indiana, against Missouri) and one by Leslie Wolfe against Dayton... The Cats have 19 shutouts, led by Hollowell with 10 solo and three combined, three by Wendy Allen (plus one combined) and two by Wolfe (plus four combined)...Three players have been named to the 'watch list' for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award -- Hollowell, Vandergeest and Lowe...