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Thursday March 29, 2001

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Players, coach want higher intensity level

By Brett Erickson

Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA on pace to break NCAA record for home runs in a season

Now that the dream of going undefeated has vanished, the Arizona softball team understands the reality that on any given day, even the mightiest can fall.

And although the Wildcats (36-2) are still ranked second in the country and have the offensive and defensive balance to go deep into the College World Series, they are approaching the rest of the season with a new focus.

"There's not a team out there that can't beat us, we need to realize that," senior catcher Lindsey Collins said. "We've played all these games and, yeah, they were good teams, but they weren't Pac-10 teams, so we need to bring it up a level."

So far this season, Arizona is undefeated in six games against ranked teams, including a 6-2 win over defending national champion and No. 5 Oklahoma. The Wildcats' two losses were to unranked Louisianna-Lafayette and Texas.

The road to Oklahoma City and the 2001 CWS gets a lot tougher beginning tomorrow against Oregon, as Arizona plays a ranked opponent in 20 of its final 23 games.

"Sometimes, we come out here and we're kind of dead," senior third baseman Toni Mascarenas said. "Going into Pac-10 play, we need to be up and have the right intensity going into every game."

Getting mentally prepared for every game is something UA head coach Mike Candrea is making one of his top priorities. The physical aspects of the game have been there all season for Arizona, as the Wildcats have dominated opponents in batting average (.386 to .109), home runs (83 to 8), runs scored (324 to 24) and earned-run average (0.59 to 9.55).

But where Candrea's 16 years of experience prove helpful is in keeping his players prepared "between the ears."

"There's two things we've got to be able to control - the attitude that you bring out here every day and the ability to stay focused every day," he said.

In 38 games, the Wildcats have clubbed 83 home runs, which is 17 short of the NCAA record of 100 set by the 1995 UA squad. While Mascarenas (15), freshman Leneah Manuma (14) and freshman Mackenzie Vandergeest (13) have provided much of the power, another player is making the most of her limited at-bats.

Freshman Jenny Gladding, who is 12-1 in the pitching circle this year with a minuscule 0.38 ERA, has just 41 at-bats this season because she hits only in games she pitches. In that time, though, she has hit nine long balls, which equates to a home run every 4.5 at-bats. Mascarenas is next with a homer every 7.1 at bats.

Arizona's chances of claiming the program's sixth NCAA softball title this year could hinge on the bottom third of the batting order. Arizona's last three hitters, which have included a combination of Vandergeest, Gladding, senior Allison Andrade, sophomore Lisha Ribellia, senior Erika Hanson and freshman Kim Balkan, are batting .329.

That's not a bad number, considering UA's opponents are hitting .109, but it's a far cry from the .468 mark from the first three hitters in the order - senior Lauren Bauer (.488), senior Nicole Giordano (.470) and Mascarenas (.462).

Being hit by a pitch during Monday's exhibition game against Central Arizona was nothing new for Manuma. Not including the pegging against the Vaqueros because it was in an exhibition game, the freshman from San Diego has been beaned a team-high eight times.

Manuma also has all four of the team's intentional walks.