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Stacie Chambers: Arizona’s new Home Run Queen

Stacie Chambers takes a swing during a game earlier this season. Photo by Mark Evans, TucsonCitizen.com

Arizona Wildcats senior catcher Stacie Chambers turned on the pitch, sending the ball screaming into the night, high and far, smashing into the scoreboard beyond the right field fence.

Home run No. 86. The record-breaker.

An absolute no-doubter.

“That one just felt good,” Chambers said. “As soon as I hit it, I knew it was gone.”

Chambers’ blast set the Arizona career record for home runs and highlighted a 10-0 six-inning victory over Harvard in the Cats’ opening game of an NCAA regional at Hillenbrand Stadium on Friday night.

UA will play New Mexico State at 2 p.m. Saturday.

The left-hand hitting Chambers homered to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning. She is four away from the NCAA record.

“It’s not easy to come out and put numbers up in a tough conference and the type of schedule we play,” said Arizona coach Mike Candrea.

“I’m very proud of what she’s done, but on the other hand, this program is built around team championships, so I don’t really get too excited about it. Individual honors happen after teams win. So, hopefully, we can define all that and put that ball next to something even more special.”

Chambers’ home run broke a tie in the record book with shortstop Laura Espinoza and catcher Leah Braatz.

As Candrea said Thursday night, it’s “hard” to compare players of different eras. Recently, he said it was easier to hit home runs today because of the improvement in bat technology — and the pitching in the 1990s was every bit as elite, if not more so, than the pitching of today.

He admits that Hillenbrand Stadium is a bit of a launching pad, with the wind almost always blowing out and the ball carrying well in the dry, desert air.

For as much as Chambers has done and has overcome — she suffered a life-changing, personality-changing concussion as a true freshman when she was hit in the face with a foul bat off her own bat — Espinoza remains the preeminent slugger in school history.

Her career goes all the way back to 1992, when Arizona was still playing at Gittings Field, which faced west, into the wind. The NCAA was still a year away from debuting the harder, hitter-friendly yellow ball.

When Espinoza hit six home runs as a freshman — six! — it was a revelation. The entire team had hit only five home runs in each of the previous two seasons.

What if Espinoza had played all four years in Hillenbrand — not just three — and had been able to hit the yellow ball for all four seasons?

“You look at the ball, you look at the equipment,” Candrea said.

“I would say right now, there is probably a little bit of advantage to the offensive player. … With technology, we have really been able to maximize the power in the game. And we haven’t moved the fences back. They’re the same as they were.

“But still you have to be able to put a good swing on a pitch. The one thing I can say about the record she is not playing in a weak conference that has a lot of weak pitching.”

Chambers’ good swings resulted in 15 home runs in 2008 (after she had to redshirt in 2007 because of the concussion), 31 homers in 2009, 21 last season and 19 this year.

The one thing she doesn’t have as an active player is a national championship.

So there is still more work to do for Arizona’s new home run queen.

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