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Arizona Wildcats’ all-conference shortstop Shelby Pendley leaves team

Shelby Pendley

Shelby Pendley rounds the bases after hitting her 19th home run of last season, in NCAA regional play vs. Notre Dame. Photo by Andy Morales, TucsonCitizen.com

Arizona shortstop Shelby Pendley, who earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors last season as a freshman, has left the team, coach Mike Candrea said Thursday.

“It was kind of a surprise,” Candrea said. “For personal reasons, she decided to leave the team. It is what it is.”

Candrea added that he did not know where Pendley will continue her career.

She hit .331 with 19 home runs last season — two off the school freshman record — and had 55 RBIs while starting all 57 games at shortstop. She did all that while coming back from a torn ACL in the summer and battling a lower back injury late in the season.

At one point late last season, Candrea said the left-handed hitting Pendley, from Rio Rancho, N.M., could be about as good as he’s ever had at shortstop.

Her unexpected departure, combined with the graduation of Lini Koria (.316, 16 home runs), leaves Arizona short on proven power hitters.

Senior third baseman Brigette Del Ponte (.328, 15 home runs, team-high 56 RBIs) will anchor the middle of the lineup. Candrea said his early plan defensively starts with moving Del Ponte to shortstop and putting freshman Lauren Young at third base. Young could also end up at shortstop.

“We have some options,” Candrea said.

The Wildcats open practice Jan. 7 and will begin the season Feb. 8 at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe.

One of the big questions for this team will be the health and effectiveness of senior pitcher Kenzie Fowler, who underwent back surgery — a microscopic lumbar discectomy for a herniated disc — in early October.

“She’s starting to toss a little bit,” said Candrea. “She’s pain-free but she hasn’t thrown a lot yet.”

It might not be until March before she is able to pitch in a game, although that is still very much in flux.

“It’s hard to say and I don’t want to put a time limit on it,” Candrea said. “We’re not going to push her, but she’s rehabbing really well.”

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