It’s an impossible task. Picking the best leadoff hitter in Arizona softball history. Just too many good candidates.
Alison, Caitlin, Lauren, Amy … Brittany?
Take your pick. That’s a combined 12 first-team All-American honors. There really is no completely wrong answer.
But the latest leadoff legend isn’t exactly like the others.
Wildcats senior Brittany Lastrapes has used her swing-away lefty skills to give Arizona power over base-stealing at the top of the order. She has hit 51 career home runs, ninth in school history.
One other thing: Of the other greatest leadoff hitters in school history, she is the only one to not yet have the sparkly prize of a national championship ring.
Lastrapes will continue to work on that this weekend as Arizona takes on Oklahoma at a best-of-three NCAA Super Regional in Tucson beginning Friday night at Hillenbrand Stadium. The winner advances to the College World Series.
“Like I told her, I think she is one of the best pure hitters I’ve seen,” said Arizona coach Mike Candrea.
“And I give all the credit to her dad (David Lastrapes). He did a nice job of getting her great hitting mechanics. There is not a lot that goes wrong. She’s not a hitter where you are constantly working on her timing, and she has the ability to consistently make hard contact.”
Lastrapes never really envisioned herself as an Arizona leadoff hitter. Candrea always put a premium on speed at the top of the lineup. Lastrapes is quick enough, but it’s not like she was any threat to steal 56 consecutive bases like Caitlin Lowe did.
“I don’t think they ever expected me to be leadoff,” Lastrapes said. “It just kind of worked out that way.”
For as much as it matters — the leadoff hitter is only guaranteed to lead off an inning once a game — Candrea has wanted to hit Lastrapes first because that means she will, over the course of a season, get more at-bats than everyone else in the lineup. Makes sense.
Besides, he said, during the course of the game, his leadoff hitter often seems to come up in RBI situations, where she needs to drive the ball out of the infield, not drag bunt or try to slap out an infield hit.
“I love it when we can get someone on and she’s up,” Candrea said. “I feel like she will hit the ball hard.”
Candrea experimented with dropping her to third in the batting order late in the season, but that lasted only a couple of weeks. Lastrapes’ four years of batting leadoff almost exclusively have resulted in these numbers:
* 245 starts
* A .417 batting average (336 of 805); tied for fourth in school history
* 253 runs; third in school history
* 51 home runs; ninth in school history
* 66 doubles; first in school history
* 199 RBIs; ninth in school history
* 23 stolen bases
And now comes one more great challenge: Oklahoma’s hard-throwing left-hander Keilani Ricketts.
“She’s not my favorite pitcher to hit off of — or attempt to hit off,” Lastrapes said. “But maybe it will be different this weekend.”
There’s no need for Lastrapes to psych herself out before facing Ricketts. Lastrapes can take her place among the UA greats, not only for the leadoff position but among all the players in the program’s rich tradition.
“Definitely,” she said, asked if there was extra pressure batting leadoff.
“It’s been very stressful. But I can’t complain. It’s been amazing.”
OF Lauren Bauer, 1998-01
.411, 238 runs, 133 stolen bases
1B Amy Chellevold, 1992-95
.415, 252 runs, 113 stolen bases
OF Caitlin Lowe, 2003-2007
.446, 242 runs, 156 stolen bases
OF Alison (Johnsen) McCutcheon, 1995-98
.466, 289 runs, 148 stolen bases
TUCSON SUPER REGIONAL
Game 1: Friday — Arizona vs. Oklahoma, 8:30 p.m. (ESPNU)
Game 2: Saturday — Arizona vs. Oklahoma, 2 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 3: Saturday — Arizona vs. Oklahoma, 4:30 p.m. (ESPN), if necessary