By Eric Wein
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Following a decisive doubleheader sweep two weeks ago at home, the Ari-
zona softball team had gathered in left field for a typical pep talk from Coach Mike Candrea, but they were looking around for one more player.
Somebody was missing.
Susie Parra peered around the brick wall at the end of the dugout. With the hint of a smile on her face, she jogged out to join the team after realizing what had happened.
While being overwhelmed with kids wanting her autograph, she had been distracted.
Such is the life for the best-known player on the top-ranked Arizona softball team.
The All-America pitcher has become a celebrity of sorts in this, the senior year of her storybook career. The Wildcats' ace is humble and soft-spoken, but she doesn't like to say no to the autograph seekers that gather after every game.
"It's nice to be a role model and give kids something to shoot for," Parra said.
Arizona had never won a national championship before Parra's arrival. Now, there are two championship signs on the center-field fence at Hillenbrand Stadium.
Parra's statistics put her atop virtually every Arizona pitching category. She is the only UA softball pitcher to win two titles. She will likely be remembered as one of the best pitchers ever. But she will be the last to tell you about her accomplishments.
"The thing that's always impressed me about Susie Parra is she's a team player," Candrea said. "She is a very quiet leader on this team. Susie has always led by example. She has always been one to put the team ahead of herself. I admire her for that. With all the success and the honors, she has taken them with stride and continued to stay focused and continued to improve."
This season has not necessarily provided the finishing touches she would have liked to put on her career.
In comparison to the standards she set the past three seasons, this year has been somewhat of a disappointment. Despite a 23-1 record, she has a 1.77 ERA, well above the 0.46 ERA she had after three seasons. Her strikeout total is down, her walks are up and she has allowed just six fewer runs than she gave up in the past three seasons combined.
While not being one to think about statistics, Parra has been bothered by allowing the runs. That is something she didn't used to do.
"It's been trying," said Parra, who owns a 91-9 career record. "I thought since the beginning of my senior year it would be like my freshman, sophomore and junior years, just keep building."
A major factor was adjusting to a new catcher behind the plate. Jody Pruitt had been her catcher since Parra's freshman year, but Pruitt graduated last year and became an assistant coach. It just hasn't been the same with freshman Leah Braatz behind the plate, although Parra says she's adjusting.
"Jody took control of everything," Parra said. "I just had to go out there and pitch. She told me where to put it, whether to put a break on it. Now, I've got to think more."
Parra's mechanical problems also came from her shoes. After a while, she discovered that wearing shoes that were higher on her ankle caused her pain when she dragged her foot during her motion. Her foot problems caused her to alter her shoulders, which threw off her technique.
Still, she has made strides recently to regain her form, even before pitching her eighth career no-hitter last Saturday against Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore.
While it has been somewhat of a troublesome year for Parra in the pitching circle, she has had few worries at the plate. Parra has a .370 average and 12 homers this season, well above the .238 average and six homers she had before this season.
That offensive output allows to use Parra as a designated player when she would normally be sitting out.
"I think Susie has been more consistent than the past years," Candrea said. "She has finally realized what she needs to do to be successful at the plate. She's been tremendous for us."
Parra said when she competes, she has to shed her image of being nice. Along with changing her stance and working with a batting tee, getting mean at the plate has helped her hitting.
"I found out you have to go up to the plate mad. I was too nice," said Parra. "You have to go up there angry, ready to kill the ball."
When the season ends in May, she will have to weigh several different options. Professional softball leagues in Italy and Japan could offer lucrative contracts. But she would also like to use her education degree to work in a special-education program or even coach softball.
Parra also has set her sights on pitching for the United States when softball becomes a medal sport for the first time in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. She would have to stay in shape for two years to accomplish that goal. But she would also like to have Pruitt behind the plate again.
"She's tried talking to me about that," Pruitt said. "I would like to do that, but I'm past that point in my life."
Parra and the Wildcats expect to be at the College World Series in Oklahoma City, Okla., for the fourth time in her career and she would like her final collegiate victory to come in the championship game.
"Hopefully, we'll end up with a ring in the last game," she said. "I would like one of the better performances of my career.
"I would like my pitches to work the way I want them. I just hope I could play to the best of my ability and that we win. After we win, I wouldn't care." Read Next Article