Going into the season, it was expected that fifth-year senior Hanah Bowen and sophomore Devyn Netz would do most of the pitching for Arizona softball. While the pair still leads the team in innings pitched, freshman Madi Elish has quickly caught up with Bowen.
“I was just expecting to just come here and just be ready for whenever my time was to come,” Elish said. “But I’m glad to come here and pitch as much as I have so far. I think it’s awesome being a freshman and getting as many innings as I have so far.”
Netz has emerged as the No. 1 pitcher on the staff. She has the lowest ERA (2.43) and by far the most innings pitched (63.1). Recently, though Elish has been pitching the bulk of the innings that go to the No. 2 pitcher. She now sits at 39.2 IP, about half a game behind Bowen’s 42.1 IP. She sports an identical ERA as Bowen at 2.65.*
The freshman was thrown into the Pac-12 fire last weekend at UCLA when she entered the game for the final out of the first game, started the second, then pitched the final 2.1 innings of the third. Elish gave up four runs—three of them earned—in 8.2 IP against the No. 4 Bruins. She was the hard-luck loser in the game that Arizona was no-hit by Holly Azevedo.
“Going in there I was like, ‘Wow! This is like a rivalry between us,’” Elish said. “But it was crazy because both of these programs I’ve watched since I was younger. So just being on this team in this program and then facing UCLA was crazy.”
Head coach Caitlin Lowe has been pleased with the development of Elish’s mental game and her approach to pitching. What’s the most important part of that development?
“I think the way she kind of approaches the day when she steps out there confidently and she just goes at hitters and attacks them,” Lowe said. “Getting strikes early is always a big thing for her so it’s big when she does that. Then it opens up her offspeed and she’s really, really hard to hit.”
Now, Elish and her team are preparing to face in-state rivals ASU and their former teammate Marissa Schuld. The Sun Devils have three pitchers ranked in the top 10 in ERA in the conference. Schuld is second at 1.44.
ASU has not faced the kind of schedule that Arizona has, though. They have yet to face a top 5 team this season, while the Wildcats have already played five games against teams of that caliber and another against No. 16 Kentucky.
The Sun Devils’ top competition has been Oklahoma State, which is currently ranked seventh in the NFCA poll, No. 13 Duke, and No. 24 Texas. They defeated the Blue Devils 8-7, defeated the Longhorns 2-0, and lost to the Cowgirls 5-2. ASU started its Pac-12 season at home against Oregon State, which is still receiving a vote or two in the NFCA poll but has not been ranked in years.
The Sun Devils are the kind of team that Arizona needs to be competitive against and defeat in order to raise its postseason profile. While it has already proven impossible to defeat UCLA and will likely be difficult to defeat Washington, ASU is a team on the same level as Arizona that can provide a bump to the Wildcats’ RPI. ASU is currently ranked No. 20 by the NFCA, while the Wildcats are still at No. 14. More importantly, ASU is at No. 18 in RPI compared to No. 31 for Arizona.
For Elish and the other freshmen, it will be their first time in the rivalry series. The Wildcats are also still looking for their first Pac-12 win, but that’s not Lowe’s concern.
“I don’t think (there’s) pressure for our first (Pac-12 win),” Lowe said. “I think we’re trying to find ourselves and what this team looks like one through 18 competing together. And we’ve found our pitching in some weekends. We’ve found our hitting in some weekends, our defense in some weekends, and it’s really about how can we put all those pieces together to become a great team.”
*ERA is taken from the Pac-12 website.