By Dan Komyati
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday Feb. 8, 2002
With the top teams in the nation gunning for them, the UA softball team heads on the road for the first time season when it travels to Phoenix for the Fiesta Bowl Tournament this weekend.
The top-ranked Wildcats will face six opponents - including three teams in the Top 25 - and begin the round robin event against No. 17 Southwest Texas State (1-4) this afternoon.
After an opening weekend sweep over No. 13 Alabama, head coach Mike Candrea is eager to see how some of his younger Wildcats will react to their first challenge away from home.
"Being on the road for the first time with a lot of young kids is always an adventure," Candrea said. "When you play in a tournament like this in a four-field complex, it takes a little more focus and concentration.
"It's not like that atmosphere that you have (at home), so it'll be a good challenge for us."
One of the biggest hurdles of the weekend will come today when the Wildcats meet Texas (2-0) and their former prep national player of the year - freshman pitcher Cat Osterman.
Osterman, a member of the U.S. National Team last summer, has been regarded by many as the top left-handed pitcher in softball, and she did not disappoint in her first collegiate appearance against Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. In that game, she tied a Texas freshman record with 11 strikeouts in a 3-0 shutout.
"Texas should be very good with Osterman," Candrea said. "I hope we get a chance to see her, she is a very good young left-handed pitcher."
If the match-up does happen, the Wildcats will not exactly be sending any slouch of their own to the mound to face the Longhorns' freshman.
Senior Jennie Finch will likely get the nod in the circle for UA, and last year's Honda Player of the Year brings her personal 42-game winning streak to the contest - only eight victories shy of the NCAA record.
Last weekend, the highly touted pitching duo of Finch and sophomore Jenny Gladding struggled at times in the victories over Alabama. Finch allowed first-inning home runs in both of her starts against Alabama, while Gladding issued a career-high eight walks in her performance.
Yet the early-season rust raised little concern from the Wildcat coaching staff.
"I know they're good, they know they're good and it's just a matter of getting back into the swing of things," assistant coach and all-time UA wins leader Nancy Evans said. "If they were at their best right now, I'd be worried.
"We need them to peak later in the season."
After scoring 32 runs in the first three games of the season, the Wildcats bats will look to stay hot tomorrow when they meet No. 10 Cal State Fullerton (1-1) and Mississippi State (0-0).
UA will finish the tournament with games Sunday against No. 24 Massachusetts (0-0) and Wisconsin (0-0).
"We'll get to see some good teams," Candrea said of the tournament which will be at the Rose Mofford Sports Complex in Phoenix. "We're anxious and looking forward to it."