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For Arizona Wildcats softball ace Kenzie Fowler, it’s ‘go time’

Kenzie Fowler hugs coach Mike Candrea after the Wildcats beat Tennessee at the College World Series last season. ESPN3.com screenshot

Through the wins and losses, the ups and downs, the main goal of the Arizona softball season has been to make sure sophomore pitcher Kenzie Fowler was in good shape for the postseason … and then turn her loose.

How has that worked out?

We’ll find out Friday when the Wildcats take on Harvard at 6:30 p.m. at Hillenbrand Stadium in the first round of a double-elimination NCAA regional.

“Right now, I think she’s in a good frame of mind, and, for me, that’s the most important thing,” coach Mike Candrea said.

“The only thing I can really control is to make sure we’re in a good mindset.”

The frame of mind is one thing. Fowler’s physical health is another.

It hasn’t been easy to get to this point.

Following a run of illegal pitch calls in last year’s College World Series, Fowler changed her pitching motion in the offseason. Then, she switched back to her old motion during the season. She has battled back problems. She suffered a concussion on a freak play, when she was hit in the head with a foul ball while sitting in the dugout on April 17.

She missed Arizona’s following two series — the Cats went 1-5 vs. Arizona State and Oregon — before returning May 6 against UCLA.

There are two ways to look at that. The upside to that three-week break is that she might be fresher for the postseason. On other hand, she might not be peaking in terms of being able throw a lot of innings.

When she pitched Saturday, which was her third appearance in three days, she clearly did not have her usual endurance. She lacked her typical velocity on her pitches and gave up six runs — five earned — and 12 hits in a loss to Cal.

Fowler is 23-7 with a 1.75 ERA this season. She has struck out 211 in 184 1/3 innings, allowing 132 hits and 85 walks.

“For any pitcher, a midseason rest is weirdly a good thing,” Fowler said. “It’s hard to get back into it once you’re doing nothing for a couple of weeks, but I felt that freshness when I came back.”

Said Candrea: “When you get into the postseason and you start running the innings up, you want to make sure they’re game ready.”

There’s only one way to find out.

Candrea doesn’t like to mess around in the postseason. He has a long history of getting the most possible out of his ace at this time of year.

Based on how he has done things, he won’t take a chance of starting No. 2 pitcher Shelby Babcock against Harvard, which figures to be overmatched. Candrea will use Babcock if the Cats get a big lead, but otherwise, the postseason will be a steady dose of Fowler.

For the Wildcats to get to next week’s Super Regional, Fowler is going to have to sharp on all three days of regional play this weekend.

“I’ve been building up the last two weeks, pitch-count wise, so I think I’ll be good,” Fowler said.

“It’s go-time. It’s time to get on a roll.”


Game 1, 4 p.m. — Texas Tech vs. New Mexico State
Game 2, 6:30 p.m. — Arizona vs. Harvard

Game 3, 2 p.m. — Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2
Game 4, 4:30 p.m. — Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2
Game 5, 7 p.m. — Loser Game 3 vs. Winner Game 4

Game 6, noon — Winner Game 3 vs. Winner Game 5
Game 7, 2 p.m. — Repeat Game 6, if necessary

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