UA's softball tornadoes touch down in Texas

By Eric Wein

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Call it the National Invitational Tournament of softball.

The Wildcats (8-0) enter a mini-tournament in College Station, Texas, with what almost resembles basketball's NIT because of the lineup of teams from last season's NCAA softball tournament. All four teams went to the NCAA playoffs last year but Arizona was the only team to advance to the College World Series.

It will also be the closest the Wildcats will migrate to Oklahoma City, where the College World Series is held each year.

Arizona plays Oklahoma this morning and Texas A&M tonight. The Wildcats then face Southwestern Louisiana and Oklahoma again tomorrow with games against Texas A&M and Southwestern Louisiana to close the tournament on Sunday.

UA coach Mike Candrea likes the competition because his team will have to earn wins against somewhat comparable opponents rather than the lopsided matchups they sometimes face.

"We don't need a lot of games where we overmatch someone," he said. "We need games that people match up with us and we have to play."

Last weekend, the Wildcats blew through the Coca-Cola Classic in Phoenix, collecting six wins despite stiff competition. Senior shortstop Laura Espinoza was named Pac-10 Player of the Week for her performance.

"I thought it was a good weekend for us," Candrea said. "We came out and definitely showed the explosiveness our offense is capable of doing. As the days went on, we got a little better on the defensive side of the mound and on the mound. That's the key for us. We need to grow. As the games went on, we showed maturity in some areas."

Candrea picked out Carrie Dolan (4-0) as improving throughout last weekend but said Nancy Evans (4-0) struggled because of a need for conditioning. Sophomore catcher Leah Braatz also impressed him in her way of calling pitches, a chore that was handled by former assistant coach Jody Pruitt last season.

"In the next half inning, we have to shut people down and not give them back a run or two," Candrea said of occasional defensive lapses last weekend. "That's when you want the quick inning. That's the only way you can take the momentum and keep it your way. If you're constantly gaining momentum and giving it back, it becomes a tight ball game.

"If we can take care of the defensive mentality we have, give the pitching staff a chance to mature, this team's going to be dynamite."

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