Mike Candrea mostly liked what he saw from the Arizona Wildcats in Tampa last week, despite the fact they went 3-2 in the USF Opening Weekend Invitational.
“I thought we played well,” he said Wednesday. “We’ve got some improving to do. I thought we pitched well, I thought we played great defense.”
As for the offense, well, that was a tale of two halves. The top of the order — batters Nos. 1-5 — crushed the ball, going 34 for 77 with 11 homers. The rest of the lineup? Four hits in 53 at-bats, a paltry .075 batting average.
“The top five hitters were on fire and did their job,” Candrea said, “but we needed some production from the bottom half.”
Finding that production is going to be Arizona’s “adventure” over these next several weeks, Candrea said. The longtime coach plans to mix and match the six-through-nine spots until he finds a fruitful combination.
So while Rylee Pierce (1B), Ivy Davis (LF), Hillary Edior (RF) and Izzy Pacho (DP) started in Tampa, folks like Joelle Krist, Carli Campbell, Jenna Kean and Tamara Statman could find themselves in the starting nine this weekend when No. 9 Arizona hosts the Hillenbrand Invitational against New Mexico, USF, Illinois-Chicago, No. 7 Alabama, and Cal State Fullerton.
“I think this is a (sport) where you have to give people opportunities,” Candrea said. “It takes at-bats to get comfortable, so you’ve got to be careful how much opportunity you give a kid. But on the other hand, our strength is our depth and we just have to keep mixing and matching to try to find that magic solution.”
It could take a while. Candrea said it might not be until midseason before the Wildcats are able to identify their best nine players.
“We have some kids that are really good defensively, some that are better offensively,” he said. “We’re able to utilize a lot more players right now and I think early in the year we have to do that.”
Home sweet homer
Over the years the Wildcats have built a reputation for being a power-hitting team. They always have fearsome hitters, plus the warm, thin air in Tucson makes for prime home-run-hitting conditions.
So far, Arizona is staying true to that reputation, as 16 of the 18 runs it scored in Tampa came via the long ball.
“I don’t think we try to hit home runs, I think it’s just our timing is on time,” said junior catcher Dejah Mulipola, who homered thrice in Tampa. “We are very powerful one through nine, and we see the pitches well and try to get ahold of it.”
For that reason, Mulipola doesn’t see Arizona’s one-dimensional offense as an issue.
“Honestly, I don’t think we really care,” she said. “A run’s a run.”
Still, the Wildcats have put an increased emphasis on situational hitting this year so that their offense doesn’t slump when the homers aren’t flying, as it often did last season.
“My big thing,” Candrea said, “is kids at this level can take batting practice and hit the ball out of the ballpark all day and feel great, but unfortunately the game isn’t played that way. So we’re doing a lot more situational work where we’re throwing movement pitches so that they have to make adjustments to speed, location and movement, and that’s what the game is all about.”
Third baseman Malia Martinez, who went 6 for 13 with two homers in Tampa, said that new regimen is helping, even though the Wildcats hit .212 with runners in scoring position and stranded 35 runners in Florida.
“It was our first weekend,” she said. “I think sometimes things just don’t go the way we want them to.”
Thus, Martinez sees the Hillenbrand Invitational as an opportunity to bounce back, get some timely hits, and put what they’ve been practicing into action.
“It’s not something you pick up over night,” Candrea said. “It’s something that you have to keep working on.”