Some help is on the way for the Arizona softball pitching staff.
The Wildcats tried to navigate the 2011 season with only two pitchers, which made things dicey late in the season when sophomore ace Kenzie Fowler was out for six games late in the season because of a concussion.
Head coach Mike Candrea — as he was last offseason to no avail — is on the lookout for help from anywhere, including transfers from four-year schools and junior colleges.
Already, he is bringing in left-hander Kiley Shae Aldridge from Cabrillo High School in Lompoc, Calif. She should provide a softer-throwing contrast to right-handers Fowler and Shelby Babcock.
Candrea, the former head coach of the U.S. national team, could also use his international contacts.
“I may take a trip to Australia to see what’s coming up in the ranks,” he said Saturday after Oklahoma eliminated the Wildcats from an NCAA Super Regional
But, at the least, Arizona will have three pitchers next season and plans on having at least four in 2013 with the addition of Nancy Bowling, who had a 0.49 ERA as a junior at Royal High School in Simi Valley, Calif.
But the main focus is getting Fowler back to her freshman form, when she helped lead the Wildcats to the championship round of the Women’s College Series.
In the wake of several illegal pitch calls during the Series, Fowler changed her delivery in the offseason, only to change it back during the season. She suffered from back problems and then was hit in the head with a foul ball while sitting in the dugout on April 17.
The ensuing concussion caused her to skip all athletic-related activity for a couple of weeks, and her endurance, and her results, weren’t consistently up to her usual standards for the rest of the season.
Her velocity at the end of the season — often hitting 65 mph on the ESPN radar gun last week — was down slightly from last season.
Fowler finished with a 26-9 record and a 1.87 ERA, striking out 243 in 213 1/3 innings.
She declined an invitation to attend the U.S. national team camp next month.
“She definitely needs a little rest,” Candrea said, “but I don’t think she needs rest from doing some stuff for her core (muscles) and other things.”
Fowler suffered from life-threatening blood clots in her pitching shoulder while in high school, and Candrea said the UA training staff worked well with her in the last offseason in terms of her core and “keeping her in balance.”
Said Candrea: “I thought she was really strong at the end of the fall, and then I think she slowly kind of lost it.”
Babcock throws hard and had some good moments, but she is still a work in progress and took some hard losses when Fowler was unavailable. She was 17-8 with a 3.98 ERA, striking out 117 and walking 129 in 170 2/3 innings.
The pitching position was been thin at Arizona since Alicia Hollowell finished her eligibility by leading Arizona to the 2006 national championship.
Some problems were masked by Taryne Mowatt’s heroic effort in winning the 2007 World Series, but star recruit Amanda Williams — who was supposed to be the bridge between Hollowell and Fowler — was academically ineligible after her first semester, the fall of 2006. She left school and never pitched for the Wildcats.
Mowatt, in 2008, couldn’t replicate her junior year postseason magic. In 2009, neither converted infielder Sarah Akamine nor Lindsey Sisk were full-time ace material … and then Sisk transferred.
That left Fowler to carry an uncommon load as a freshman, when Williams should have been a senior.
Fowler, who battled injuries late last season — a pinched nerve in her neck that caused her pitching hand to swell; a bruised forearm from being hit with a line drive in the Super Regionals — showed plenty of grit at World Series. She led Arizona to victory in four consecutive elimination games before the championship series.
Because Fowler committed as a 15-year-old sophomore at Canyon del Oro High School in the fall of 2006, it has been difficult for Candrea to bring in another ace-quality recruit. Those kind of elite prospects have plenty of other good options where playing time seems to be more clearly available.
The next “ace” could be Bowling, with Babcock, Aldridge and maybe even someone else providing help in the meantime in 2012, when Arizona will be looking, hoping, for a full season of health from Fowler.
“We’ve got to get Kenzie back going,” Candrea said.