No. 9 Arizona (41-12, 14-9 Pac-12) vs. No. 1 Oregon (48-7-1, 19-3-1 Pac-12)
Saturday, May 10
11:30 a.m. PDT
T.V. - Pac-12 Network
Live stats - arizonalivestats.com
Live updates - Twitter: @UA_Softball (twitter.com/ua_softball)
There’s nothing quite like playing a game at Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium. It’s a unique sanctuary where countless fans have watched some of the best student athletes Arizona has produced over the years.
Wildcat seniors Shelby Babcock, Kenzie Fowler, Alex Lavine, Estela Piñon and Kelsey Rodriguez look to leave a legacy in a program that has no shortage of history, as they play their final season for Arizona head coach Mike Candrea.
Moving on to the next chapter is often viewed with excitement, anticipation, fear of the unknown, or more likely a combination of the three. And sometimes, the feeling of beginning a part of your life won’t even hit you until it’s actually taking place.
“It hasn’t hit me just yet,” Babcock said. “It probably won’t until senior day. It’s pretty crazy thinking about it though.”
After a four year career as a starter for Legacy High School in Broomfield, Colo., Babcock has spent the last four years playing at Arizona, earning a Pac-10 All-Freshman Team honor in 2011.
“The tradition is what drew me to Arizona,” Babcock said. “I love the people here and playing for coach (Candrea).”
Though she isn’t 100 percent sure on the future holds for her, she will definitely miss playing in Tucson.
“I’m going to miss everything,” said Babcock. “The girls, my teammates, the fans-I’m going to miss it.”
Coming out of Canyon del Oro High School in Tucson as one of the most heralded recruits in the state’s history, Fowler made to choice to play for Candrea and the Arizona Wildcats. Fowler’s decision to stay home and play for the Cats was an easy one, as she grew up an Arizona fan.
“It’s been a dream of mine ever since I was a little girl,” Fowler said. “I can remember coming to this stadium as a young girl and getting Jennie Finch’s autograph thinking she was the coolest thing ever.”
It’s fair to say Fowler has lived up to the hype, earning a spot on the All Pac-10 Freshman team, receiving first team NFCA All-American honors in 2010 and being named to the second team All-American in 2011. In 2012, she was named to the USA Softball Player of the Year watch list, a list comprised of the top 50 players from across the country.
“I wish I could play here for ever,” Fowler said. “I’m definitely going to miss it. It’s been a dream come true for me.”
Lavine traveled south on I-10 from Glendale, Ariz. to come play for Candrea. Coming out of Mountain Ridge High School, Lavine made the decision to make Arizona her choice to play her college ball. Deciding to come to Arizona was not a difficult choice for her. She has wanted to play for the Cats since she was eight years old.
“It’s been amazing,” Lavine said. “I couldn’t have dreamt of a better experience to have. I am so grateful for my amazing four years here at Arizona.”
Of all the memories Lavine has of her teammates and coaches, the one thing she will always take away from her time with the Wildcats is how close she is with her teammates and how they have always had her back.
“One that really sticks out to me is when I went up for my first at bat last week after coming back from an injury, my teammates gave me a standing ovation,” Lavine said. “Seeing the look on their faces just made me feel loved. I’ve wanted to be here since I was eight years old. It’s just amazing that my dream has become a reality.”
As a Tucson native, Piñon made the decision to come down and play for the Wildcats after spending two years at Yavapai College in Prescott, Ariz. For her, the chance to play for Arizona was the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I grew up watching U of A when I was little,” Piñon said. “It’s something I’ve always dreamed of and wanted to do since I was young.”
Though Piñon hasn’t been at Arizona her entire college career, she feels it was the best experience she’s had and will carry the memories forever.
“What I’m going to miss most is just being in the circle,” Piñon said. “I’ve always dreamed of playing in this stadium. The past two years just flew by so fast; I wish I had a few more years left here.”
Like Piñon, Rodriguez took the same path by attending a previous college before dawning the cardinal and navy. She attended Pacific College from 2011 to 2012 after a very successful high school career at Seton Catholic.
After her two years at Pacific, Rodriguez made the jump to play for Candrea.
“Knowing the program with its history and tradition was a big reason for me,” Rodriguez said. “And with transferring, I wanted to see if I could up my game even more with the help of coach Candrea and his staff. And of course playing with my sister (sophomore OF Courtney Rodriguez) was also a huge deal for me.”
When Rodriguez’s Arizona career comes to and end, she’ll remember the victories, the stadium, the fans and all of the pomp and circumstance that come with being an Arizona softball player. But what she’s going to miss most is not something that can show up on a box score or stat sheet.
“I’m going to miss the camaraderie with the team the most,” Rodriguez said. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity to learn from coach Candrea and to play for him.”
As for coach Candrea himself, he knows how special it is to have another group of seniors come through Arizona’s program.
“It’s crazy how fast the time goes,” Candrea said. “It almost seems like the longer I’m here, the faster the time flies. It’s a bittersweet moment, it’s good to look back and see what these girls have done for this program, but it’s also sad to see them leave.”
In his 29th season as the head man for Arizona, Candrea knows that you can’t dictate a champion by only putting W’s on a scoreboard. To have the heart of a champion is to look back at your triumphs and be proud of what you’ve accomplished.
“I just want them to proud of what they’ve done,” Candrea said. “I want them to be proud that they’ve worn the Arizona uniform and that they played a sport that the all share a passion for. I hope they enjoyed their time here but more importantly, that they are looking forward to being a Wildcat forever.”