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Arizona might be without No. 1 pitcher Shelby Babcock at softball regional

Shelby Babcock has struck out 130 batters in 169 1/3 innings this season. Photo by Andy Morales, TucsonCitizen.com

Shelby Babcock has struck out 130 batters in 169 1/3 innings this season. Photo by Andy Morales, TucsonCitizen.com

Arizona Wildcats softball coach Mike Candrea has been feeling as good about his team as he has all season … and then came the phone call at 1:30 Sunday morning.

His No. 1 pitcher, junior Shelby Babcock, was being taken to the hospital for an illness that the school wasn’t able to disclose early Monday afternoon. By that time, she had returned home and was resting.

It was not immediately known if Babcock would be available when Arizona begins play at an NCAA regional in College Station, Texas, on Friday. The Wildcats open the four-team, double-elimination event against Baylor at 12:30 p.m. Tucson time on ESPN2.

Arizona’s rotation could be down to freshman Nancy Bowling and junior college transfer Estela Pinion, neither of whom have pitched in the postseason.

“It can be a positive, too,” Candrea said. “Sometimes you can over-think the game when you’ve been there too many times.”

Arizona’s pitching hasn’t been a strength this season, with senior Kenzie Fowler taking a redshirt season while recovering from back surgery. The Wildcats’ ERA of 3.80 was the second-worst in the nine-team Pac-12 during the regular season, and they gave up a league-high 69 home runs.

Arizona doesn’t have an ace who can go out and pitch a seven-inning shutout. This is more of hang-in-there pitching staff that needs to keep the score close to give the bats a chance to win.

Candrea has had to mix-and-match his three-pitcher staff, commending Pinion for embracing her recent role as a reliever who gives the opponents a different look.

Babcock (16-10) has been the main pitcher, though, with a 3.68 ERA to go with her team-highs in appearances (34), starts (24) and innings (169 1/3).

Candrea said he might know Babcock’s status by Wednesday afternoon. She last pitched Thursday at Stanford, allowing two earned runs in 4 2/3 innings before Pinion picked up the win in relief as Arizona rallied for 5-3 victory.

Babcock was ill for the next two days of the road trip, but appeared to be feeling better, before the early-morning trip to the hospital.

Bowling (4-6, 4.25 ERA) would be the likely starter in Babcock’s absence.

“I think she’s gotten over the hump a little bit and has more confidence in herself,” Candrea said.

“It would be nice to have Babs healthy, because it does give us that additional depth that you need. But you have to go out and do what you need to do.”

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