Be ready. Sounds so simple. Just be ready. That’s what all backup players have to be. That’s what Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea has been telling senior pitcher Sarah Akamine lately. Be ready.
Because you never know what’s going to happen.
“I ask her every day, ‘Are you ready, Sarah?’” Candrea said Saturday after a 10-2 victory over BYU gave the Wildcats a berth in the Women’s College World Series.
“She says, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready for anything.’ Today she showed me that.”
On Saturday afternoon, Akamine had little reason to be mentally ready in the bottom of the first inning against BYU in the second game of an NCAA Super Regional. But things changed in a flash.
Starting pitcher Kenzie Fowler took a batted ball off her right forearm, and, as a fearful crowd of 2,896 at Hillenbrand Stadium barely dared to breathe, the ever-ready Akamine popped out of the dugout and quickly got warmed-up in the bullpen.
“Sarah walked in, kept her composure and did a great job and gave us an opportunity to win that game,” Candrea said.
Now, it should be noted — because it was by Candrea and Akamine — that she hasn’t always been ready.
Also from TucsonCitizen.com:
Candrea: Fowler appears to be ‘fine’ after being by batted ball
UA-BYU game blog
Akamine, earlier in her career, was something of a reluctant pitcher. She was a second baseman who just happened to make 21 pitching appearances in her first two seasons. But with Arizona having a pressing need, she converted to full-time pitching before her junior year.
And she has, on occasion, been wide-eyed, lacking the steely nerves and the singular focus so common in a pitching star.
“Getting her mindset where it needed to be to walk into a tough situation … two years ago, that would have never happened to her,” Candrea said.
But now she’s a senior, and, well, sometimes a senior just gets it.
When he turned the ball over to Akamine in the bottom of the first, Candrea said he liked the look in Akamine’s eyes. She was ready.
Candrea’s final message to her: “Have fun.”
That she did. Getting outs is fun.
She inherited runners on first and second with no outs, allowing a run on a fielder’s choice and a wild pitch that tied the game at 1.
From there, the Arizona batters took control with four runs in the third, and five an inning later. Akamine, using her drop ball effectively, retired 12 of the first 13 batters she faced.
BYU broke through for a run in the bottom of the fifth, but Akamine limited the damage as the Cats were able to end the game after the fifth inning because of the eight-run mercy rule.
“It’s taken me this long to get ready and get prepared,” Akamine said. “I stepped up, and the team stepped up behind me. Yeah, it was a great feeling.”
It probably hasn’t been easy for Akamine this season. Most of the discussion has been about Fowler, the freshman sensation. With the way Candrea coaches, he was prepared to exclusively use Fowler throughout the rest of the postseason.
So, Akamine could only wait, practice … and be ready.
She entered the game with a 3.48 ERA and had started only one of the previous 22 games, although she has been used as a late-inning reliever. That she was able to hold the line as an early-inning reliever Saturday made her a postseason hero.
In the postgame news conference, as Akamine settled into her chair to Candrea’s right, she apologized to the coach for the tight fit.
“That’s OK,” Candrea told her. “You’re on the good list.”
And on the ready-to-play list.