Following a disastrous weekend at UCLA when the Arizona softball team was handed two ugly, mercy-rule losses in a three-game sweep, seniors Chelsea Goodacre and Kellie Fox called their teammates together.
“We all said it,” Goodacre remembered of the meeting. “We don’t have that dominant pitcher.”
It’s unfamiliar territory in Tucson, where the tradition lies in the circle. The Wildcats program yielded hurlers like Jennie Finch and Alicia Hollowell with relative ease, but a fledgling few struggled mightily throughout 2015, with the team limping to a 4.15 ERA — the worst in school history.
With the postseason drawing near, the senior duo knew it was imperative to address the change and refocus after pressure was evident in the batting order.
“We’re going to rally behind it,” the two told the team. “And, as a team, we’re going to win.”
Goodacre, Fox (who sports the team’s only batting average above .400), and leadoff hitter Hallie Wilson buoy the Arizona lineup at the top and will take a different approach when the Wildcats and LSU tangle at 2 p.m. Saturday to open the first super regional ever played at LSU’s Tiger Park.
The seniors said they spent most of the season nervous, putting undue pressure on themselves to compensate for the uncharacteristically subpar pitching.
“We were trying to push,” said Goodacre, the NCAA leader in RBIs. “(An opponent) would score a few runs, and we were like ‘Oh no, we have to score because they’re going to keep scoring.’ ”
“I think that having seniors at the top of the lineup is a really positive thing, just because we’re all the leaders and getting the game going and getting some runs on the board is our job,” Wilson added.
Wilson, the Wildcats’ leadoff hitter throughout all four of her seasons, said her final year has brought with it an added emphasis on preparation. Meticulous film and tendency studies of opposing pitchers is the new norm for an offense needing to be more productive than ever.
The plan hasn’t changed in Baton Rouge. Study of LSU’s young pitching staff showed the Tigers combine power velocity with good spin.
And after watching rival Arizona State struggle to adapt to humid, spacious Tiger Park, the Wildcats, who hit 104 home runs this season and relied on the long ball to escape their regional last weekend, will employ a different approach.
“We’re going to have to pick a part of the plate and really drive the ball hard on the ground,” Wilson said. “The ball doesn’t fly as well as it does in Tucson. Just going to have to keep the ball on the ground and make things happen.”
As for the pitching staff, comprised of freshman Trish Parks and sophomore Michelle Floyd, Arizona coach Mike Candrea said he liked the progress they’ve made and thinks his team is in a good place emotionally.
He can’t be certain, though, until his players step onto the field in what could be a sold-out, standing-room-only atmosphere.
“These are the stages that get to that emotional side and that mental side,” Candrea said. “I want each and every one of them to look in the mirror and make sure they’re doing what they need to do to prepare themselves to play the best softball they could play.”