The Arizona softball team begins practice Monday afternoon, with coach Mike Candrea back for his 23rd season and pitcher Kenzie Fowler ready to begin her first.
Sounds like a pretty good combination.
Fowler is the hard-throwing 6-foot pitching machine, a local kid from CDO, a two-time national Gatorade Player of the Year for softball, a bright, smart student who grew up going to games at Hillenbrand Stadium, all of 18 years old and already with the inspirational story of overcoming life-threatening blood clots in her pitching shoulder in 2007.
All she is expected to do is descend upon Hillenbrand and deliver a couple of national championships. At least. Right?
All Candrea is expected to do is keep expectations somewhere in the ballpark.
In any case, it’s an exciting new pitching chapter for Arizona, which was last seen giving up an unholy 14 runs to Alabama while getting swept out of the Women’s College World Series. The Wildcats could have used Fowler last season. Maybe the season before.
No doubt, she is the headline story as practice begins, but here are three other subheds to whet the appetite.
Brigette Del Ponte is here
The freshman infielder from Sunrise Mountain High in Peoria didn’t enroll in the fall because of some academic issues, but she made it here for the spring semester and will try to find a role as a utility player. Del Ponte was rated the fourth-best recruit in the nation by ESPNU.
Arizona has only two positional vacancies from last season — third base and first base. Freshman Matte Haack appears to have dibs on third, with powerful freshman Baillie Kirker having designs on first.
Brittany Lastrapes is back
The junior outfielder hit a team-best .481 last season and slugged 17 home runs in 63 games. The lefty-hitting Lastrapes just finished competing at a tryout camp for Team USA, which will compete in this summer’s World Championships. The squad is expected to be announced Monday.
Two former Cats — pitcher Jennie Finch and outfielder Caitlin Lowe, both Olympic veterans — are locks for the team. Another ex-Cat, third baseman Jenae Leles, is up for a spot on the team after getting national team experience last summer.
Candrea hires a Red Sox fan
The Wildcats have a new volunteer assistant coach — a position that is always more valuable than it sounds — and Candrea, the ol’ Yankees fan, must really like the new guy, who is from Boston.
That would be Nick French, who spent the past two seasons as an assistant at Piedmont College in Georgia. French used to cover prep sports as an intern for the Boston Globe, so we’re guessing an unpaid position as a softball assistant is a step up from journalism.
We hear that the left-hander throws a mighty fine batting practice, which means he will more than earn his pay at Arizona.