Arizona Daily Wildcat
College skippers say Cats are primed for title run
All five of the opposing coaches in town for last weekend's Hillenbrand Invitational Tournament didn't know quite what to expect from the second-ranked Arizona softball team.
What they did know from stat sheets was that their respective teams - Baylor, Creighton, Indiana State, Western Michigan and Oklahoma - would have their hands full with the Wildcats' balanced offense and powerful pitching.
After seeing those lofty stats become a reality at Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium, the five coaches realized what 22 other NCAA managers had already figured out - Arizona is off to an incredible start that could translate into the school's sixth NCAA championship.
"Arizona may be the best team I've ever seen in the history of this sport," Baylor head coach Glenn Moore said.
Because of Arizona's powerful offense (53 home runs in 22 games entering the tournament) and good hitting (.404 batting average), Moore decided to try something different against the Wildcats Friday afternoon.
Moore said playing the Wildcats with a "straight-up" approach would have likely proved ineffective. Instead of going with a conventional defense with three outfielders and four infielders, Moore elected to use just two outfielders and play to take away the ground-ball single from the Wildcats' offense.
Against right-handed hitters, Moore brought his right fielder in to play second base and shifted the second baseman to a position behind in the hole. He used the same strategy against left-handed batters, using the left fielder to play shortstop and then shifting that player behind the second base bag.
Moore then instructed his pitcher to throw on the outside corner of the plate for the entire game.
"I think we had a better chance of doing it the unconventional way than we did the conventional way," Moore said. "We just felt like everybody else played them straight up and were unsuccessful, so we tried to make them do something a little different."
The move had marginal success in the first three innings, as Arizona was unable to hit the ball to the wide-open field while building a 4-0 lead. In the fourth inning, though, senior Lauren Bauer hit an inside-the-park home run to a vacant left field to get the Wildcats rolling.
Senior Nicole Giordano and freshman Leneah Manuma followed with opposite-field doubles, which prompted Moore to return to his normal defense.
Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso also thought Arizona was one of the toughest teams she'd ever faced.
"When you look at their stats, it's something you don't want to show anyone on your team because they're very intimidating," Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso said after losing 6-2 to Arizona yesterday. "They're all they're cracked up to be."
"What I liked about Arizona is that even where they had the big lead and it was a no-brainer who was going to win the game, put in situations to do things, they still did the things they would do if it were one-nothing," Indiana State head coach Tom Rupert said.
Creighton head coach Brent Vigness, who has led his team to three-straight Missouri Valley Conference titles, was not at all surprised at the skill displayed by Arizona, which outscored its five opponents 47-2 en route to the championship
"They were what we expected, maybe better. There are no holes in their lineup," he said.
Perhaps the only criticism surrounding Arizona that an opposing coach had involved the Wildcats' ranking.
"We're not going to see anything better - what are you going to see better than Arizona?" Rupert said. "I haven't seen UCLA yet this year, but man, they've got to be awfully good to be ranked number one."