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Playing for Arizona is ‘dream come true’ for Tucson’s Carli Campbell

Campbell has been attending games at Hillenbrand Stadium for as long as she can remember. Now it’s where she takes the field.

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

A Tucson native, Carli Campbell has been attending games at Hillenbrand Stadium for as long as she can remember.

Her favorite Wildcats growing up were outfielders like Caitlin Lowe and Autumn Champion.

“My dad would take me,” Campbell recalled. “I was so interested in the way they played.”

So much so that Campbell modeled her game after them. Champion even taught her how to slap-hit.

Now, Campbell patrols the same outfield field grass her heroes did.

She is Arizona’s new starting left fielder, taking over for Mandie Perez who graduated last spring.

Sometimes that title doesn’t seem real.

“It’s really awesome,” Campbell said. “Ever since I was a little kid when I started softball, I came out here watching (Coach Mike) Candrea and the older players, and it’s just a dream come true because I’ve lived here my whole life.”

Campbell, an all-state player at Canyon Del Oro, played travel ball with the Arizona Suncats, a team that Candrea follows closely (his son coaches them now) and fondly.

“The kids were pushed, they practiced a lot, but I thought they were taught how to play the game,” Candrea said. “Not just physically, but mentally too and emotionally. So I kind of fell in love with some of those kids, how they played the game.”

The left-handed-hitting Campbell was among the young players Candrea kept a close eye on.

“Carli was one of those kids that she may not have the best skills, but I think she was very prepared to compete on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “So I liked that she loves to play the game, and plays the game hard, and plays hard all the time.”

Eventually, Campbell was offered a spot as a preferred walk-on at Arizona. She called that moment “unbelievable.”

“I thought it was just the best feeling ever,” Campbell said.

Campbell redshirted her first year at Arizona, but now has a vital role with the Wildcats.

She starts in left and resides in the bottom of the order, where her job is to get on base and/or move runners over for the sluggers at the top of the order.

While not as glamorous as hitting leadoff or cleanup, Candrea often preaches the importance of the 7-8-9 hitters, whose success often correlates with the team’s run production.

“Because a lot of times you can look at the bottom of the order and when 7-8-9 hitters are on-base, good things happen,” he said.

Campbell prides herself on knowing, embracing, and perfecting her role, a lesson she learned from CDO coach Kelly Fowler — and that is exactly what she’s been doing this season.

Campbell is hitting .313 and currently playing her best softball, riding a three-game hit streak into this weekend’s series at No. 5 Oregon.

Candrea called Campbell a “high achiever.”

“She plays above the level of what people perceive her to be,” he said. “She loves to compete. She handles pressure well, and I think she’s done a tremendous job for us this year.

“Going into the season, I didn’t know where she would be and how she would fit in, but she’s taken over that position and run with it. So it’s been very hard for me to find a way to get her out of the lineup. That’s a positive.”

Here’s today’s interview with Carli Campbell. I’ll have a story up on this either later today or tomorrow.

Posted by Ryan Kelapire on Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Only a redshirt freshman, Campbell still has plenty of room for growth. Candrea would like to see her enhance some of her physical skills, like speed and arm strength.

Other improvements — like getting accustomed to Pac-12 pitching — will come with experience.

“When you’re a slapper at this level and you can’t run 2.7 down the line, 2.6 down the line, you’re going to get thrown out a lot,” Candrea said. “And so I think this year, she’s learned what are the things that work at this level and what are the things you need to tweak.

“I always say that kids for the most part, when they go through the fall for the first time, they don’t really know what they’re getting ready for. You can describe what’s at the end of the tunnel, but until they go there and see it, they really don’t know.

“So I think her fall next year will be even that much better, knowing what kind of player she is and what kind of skills she needs to be successful and how she can get on base. ... But I like the way she goes about her business and if she continues to do that, you’ll see her get better and better each year.”

Campbell’s recent surge won her the gold jersey in practice this week. The color of it is great. The block ‘A’ stitched across the front is even better.

“I always thought it was a dream (to play here),” Campbell said. “But it came true. It’s awesome.”


Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire