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Winning regional could put Leles, Cats right back home

Jenae Leles fields a grounder during practice at Hillenbrand Stadium Tuesday. Arizona plays its first NCAA Tournament game Friday.

Jenae Leles fields a grounder during practice at Hillenbrand Stadium Tuesday. Arizona plays its first NCAA Tournament game Friday.

During UA softball team practice sessions at Hillenbrand Stadium this week, Jenae Leles tried not to get too sentimental about the soothing confines.

When she looked around the stadium, there was a pang of regret.

“Just one more (game),” yearns the slugging senior Arizona third baseman, whose team faces Tennessee-Martin in Louisville, Ky., on Friday in an NCAA Tournament regional game.

Proper home season closure was denied the Wildcats. The squad never imagined it would play its last game at Hillenbrand on April 26.

The Pac-10 schedule made UA play its last seven regular season games on the road.

And then the NCAA decision denying the Wildcats’ bid to host an NCAA Tournament regional had them feeling cheated.

For Leles, who has 22 of the team’s NCAA record-tying 126 homers, many of them the skyshot variety, it’s a bittersweet affair.

Sweet because she can hardly ask for a more fruitful senior year; bitter for obvious reasons.

“You know, we’re still hoping we get (to host) a super regional,” she says. “That would next be fantastic.”

The notion might put some extra zing in the Wildcat bats as they go through the Louisville Regional this weekend. It could be a good chip on the shoulder to have.

UA has hit the long balls all year, but it’s not what the team focuses on.

“We never try to hit home runs,” Leles said. “That’s not what we’re taught. Our purpose is to drive the ball, make contact. We’ve been drilled with that from the beginning.”

Leles’ dad, John, played tennis at UA.

Leles, from Sacramento, Calif., said she could hardly believe her fortune when UA offered her the chance to join the tradition. Today she admits it’s a lot better to be wearing the red and blue then not.

“I don’t know if playing against Arizona is as intimidating now as it might have been. There is parity in softball,” she said. “But you like to think we still get people to be emotional about playing us. For us, we have to match it.”

Work with physical trainers allowed Leles to bloom into a power hitter.

Her home runs increased by five this year after she led the team with 17 a year ago.

She’s a problem for opposing pitchers because of her strength and the way she owns the plate. She’s taken an appropriate number of bruises for the Cats by being hit by pitches.

Whatever is needed.

Launching balls for homers has made fans notice her, but she wants her game to be grounded: make the tough plays at third base, take a pitch in the ribs when needed, stay consistent.

Arizona has had a different aura this year compared to others, because offense is the team’s strength.

But the pitching has come around in recent weeks.

“We work all year to peak (in) the postseason,” said Leles, who will play National Fast Pitch pro ball with the Rockford (Ill.) Thunder after her UA career.

“Pitching and defense . . . We’re always learning.”



UA’s games in the Louisville Regional won’t be on TV, but will be on 1290 AM. Go to www.tucsoncitizen.com/ua_softball for recaps and analysis.

Friday – Game 1: ARIZONA (41-14) vs. Tennessee-Martin (38-22), 1 p.m. Game 2: Louisville (47-9) vs. Purdue (29-18), 3 p.m.

Saturday – Game 3: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 7 a.m. Game 4: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser, 9 a.m. Game 5: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner, noon

Sunday – Game 6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner, 11 a.m. Game 7: Repeat, if needed, 1 p.m.

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