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No. 1 softball hits road in search of identity


Photo
CLAIRE C. LAURENCE/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Senior outfielder Crystal Farley connects with the ball during Arizona's win over Hawaii Feb. 20 at Hillenbrand Stadium. The Wildcats head to Las Vegas this weekend to compete in the UNLV Tournament.
By Tom Knauer
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, March 11, 2005
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Rest and relaxation? Not on the spring break agenda for the No. 1 Arizona softball team.

The Wildcats (15-0) take the field today for the UNLV Tournament in Las Vegas, and then travel to Fullerton, Calif., for the Kia Klassic March 18-20.

"We're coming out here in practice, and we're trying to put ourselves together, but the thing that's going to tell about our team is taking us out on the road and just seeing where we are," said sophomore center fielder Caitlin Lowe.

The tournaments are the bulk of a three-week road trip that culminates in a three-game series at Louisiana-Lafayette, the team that eliminated Arizona in the NCAA Regional round last May and prevented the Wildcats from a 17th consecutive trip to the Women's College World Series.

The action over the break gives Arizona head coach Mike Candrea his first shot to become the fourth collegiate softball coach to reach 1,000 career victories.

Candrea, in his 20th season with the Wildcats, is three wins short of the mark.

"You look at it kind of like a birthday, you know?" he said. "Obviously, it's a nice milestone, but it's more of a milestone for the athletes that have played in this program and the program."

Arizona has battled well through adversity this season, prevailing in all nine games decided by three runs or fewer.

The Wildcats went down 2-1 in the fourth inning Saturday against Eastern Michigan and squeaked out a 3-2 win, thanks to key hits and solid base running.

Candrea said falling this weekend to any of its five opponents - host team UNLV, Bowling Green, North Carolina State, Miami-Ohio and Long Island - would hurt his learning squad more than help.

"A loss is never good," he said. "I mean, you can learn from wins. The key for this team, like I've said, is that we continue to improve. We still need to bring a lot more energy to the ballpark throughout the week to make that happen."

Candrea meets an old friend at the Kia Klassic - Texas junior Cat Osterman, a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team that Candrea coached.

Osterman, the 2003 USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year, continues the string of strong pitchers Arizona has faced this season and aims to give the Wildcats their most formidable test to date.

"Cat's a good pitcher," Candrea said. "Obviously, our ability to move the ball against her is going to be kind of an indication of where we are offensively right now."

The No. 4 Longhorns are the second of three ranked teams Arizona faces at the Klassic, along with No. 25 Long Beach State and No. 22 Florida State.

Senior first baseman Crystal Farley said the games help prepare the Wildcats for its series with the No. 8 Running Rebels and Pacific 10 Conference play.

"It'll be perfect timing, I think," she said. "We've had a couple tough games against not-as-tough competition. It'll be nice, because it will give us a feel of what we're getting into for the rest of the season. From here on out, it's all going to be tough teams."

Farley said it's a privilege to boost Candrea toward a rare milestone.

"Any group of girls could be in here," she said. "It's all part of your four-year stay here ... having special moments like that and stuff. It's just going to be fun to be around."

With a trip to Sin City, the soothing climate of California and a meeting with an emerging rival on tap, Candrea said he sees only one place he expects the Wildcats to end up.

The winner's circle.

"That's about it," he said.



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