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What to watch for when Arizona softball visits sneaky good Stanford team

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Photo by Ryan Kelapire

The No. 9 Arizona softball team continues Pac-12 play this week with a four-game road series at Stanford.

The Wildcats enter at 18-5 overall and 3-2 in the Pac-12. The Cardinal are 22-4 and 3-0, respectively. Here is the series schedule along with some things to watch for this weekend. Note that all four games will be streamed on Stanford Live Stream-2

  • Thursday, April 1 — 6 p.m. PT/MST
  • Friday, April 2 — 3:30 p.m. PT/MST
  • Friday, April 2 — 6 p.m. PT/MST*
  • Saturday, April 3 — 12 p.m. PT/MST

*non-conference game

Someone’s winning streak is ending

Stanford and Arizona both won all four games of their previous Pac-12 series, sweeping Utah and Oregon State, respectively. The Cardinal have actually been on a roll for a while now, winning 10 in a row. Arizona was on a three-game losing streak before their sweep of OSU.

For Stanford, this series is about proving themselves against a top-tier team. So far, Utah is the only major-conference team they have played and that doesn’t say much. The Utes are below .500.

For Arizona, this series is about being able to pull out wins on the road, where they are 4-5 this season, including a 1-5 record against ranked teams.

When UA head coach Mike Candrea was asked about what his team is missing on the road, he said it just comes down to executing on game day.

“I mean, all of those games we were right in it, we just couldn’t close it,” he said. “We couldn’t get the key hit and sometimes that can be confidence. Obviously Hillenbrand Stadium provides a lot more confidence in our kids because that’s a very familiar place, they’re there every day. Being on a road sometimes a little bit different. The background is a little bit different for hitters in different ballparks, but there shouldn’t be an excuse for that. We have to go on. We have to win on the road and so hopefully this weekend we will carry the momentum that we’ve had this last weekend and bring it to the road and play.”

Keeping the bats hot against a sneaky good pitching staff

When you think of the best pitching staffs in the Pac-12, you probably think of UCLA, Washington, Arizona and Oregon. Don’t sleep on Stanford!

The Cardinal’s 1.26 ERA is the second-best in the Pac-12 and fourth-best in the country. Ace Alana Vawter is the only pitcher in the country with 13+ wins and a sub-0.80 ERA. (She is 13-1 with a 0.77 ERA.)

The sophomore does not have the kind of strikeout numbers you would expect from an ace—76 in 81.1 innings—but she issues very few walks, holds opponents to a .192 batting average, and has only surrendered two homers all season. That could make for a tough matchup for an Arizona team that often lives, or dies, by the long ball.

Stanford almost exclusively uses two pitchers and Regan Krause is the other name to know. She has been very solid too, posting a 1.32 ERA in 69 innings. The freshman holds batters to a .206 average and hasn’t allowed a homer all year.

That duo may pose problems for an Arizona offense that has struggled away from home but caught fire against Oregon State at Hillenbrand Stadium last weekend.

“I think playing at home this weekend kind of helped us find out that we’re still a good team, we can still hit, we can still play,” said Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week. “So I think going into Stanford that’s just the same mentality that we have to have is, we’re still a good team and no matter where we play, we just need to stick to Arizona softball and I think that’s our mindset at this point.”

While Stanford’s schedule has been soft so far, there is no doubt they are a solid team. They reached the postseason in 2019 for the first time since 2013 and look poised to make another appearance this season.

“They’re much improved over the last couple years,” Candrea said. “We haven’t seen them in a year and I think they’ve been able to bring in better athletes. I think Jess (Allister) does a really good job of coaching that team and coaching them up and and taking care of the details. They’re a team that’s gonna be well prepared and again it’s going to come down to execution. Can we get the key hits when we need them? Can we get runners on base when we need them? Can we pitch the way we need to? It’s gonna be a good challenge, but I think one that we’re up to right now.”

The first base shuffle

Freshman Carlie Scupin has been struggling for the last few weeks, with just two hits, no homers, and 12 strikeouts in her last 20 at-bats. Her slump caused Candrea to give fellow freshman Giulia Koutsoyanopulos the start in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader against Oregon State. She had two hits.

While Candrea said Scupin will be back in the lineup against Stanford, he will continue using G as a defensive specialist late in the game, usually after Scupin’s second at-bat.

“And depending on how G’s swinging it and the matchup, we may have to bring Carlie back in for a hit or a pinch hitter or whatever it may be, but G’s a really good defensive player and and we’ve got to have her on the field when the game’s on the line,” he said. “She makes me feel very comfortable and that’s her strength but she’s worked really hard with her offensive side of the ball and is getting better. But it’s a freshman that didn’t have that database and so you have to play games to get there, and that’s why I think it’s good that we’re playing these four-game series.”

Keeping the pitchers fresh

The Oregon State series was the first time Arizona experienced playing four Pac-12 games in three days. (Yes, one was technically a non-conference game but still.)

One of Candrea’s biggest takeaways was that, by the last day of the series, the pitchers can be at a big disadvantage if they are not used carefully because of fatigue and the opposing team getting several looks at them. He thought that was the case Sunday when Alyssa Denham, who pitched all three days vs. OSU, was roughed up for five runs in the 7-5 win.

Look for the Wildcats to get Hanah Bowen or Devyn Netz into the mix more in Palo Alto. However, a lot will depend on how Arizona’s offense does.

“We just have to be a little smarter with Denham and maybe try to get her out of some games a little bit earlier if we can, but you don’t always have that luxury,” Candrea said last weekend. “So this is where your conditioning and your mindset really comes into play and I really feel on Sundays that’s what it’s gonna be.”

More history for Harper

Harper heads to Palo Alto with 84 career homers, the fifth-most in Arizona history and tied for seventh all-time. She was slumping there for a while but, like a lot of UA players, had a big weekend against Oregon State with four homers in four games.

If she stays hot, she can keep climbing the all-time leaderboard this weekend.

Here’s where she stands:

  • 1. Lauren Chamberlain (Oklahoma) — 95
  • 2. Katiyana Mauga (Arizona) — 92
  • 3. Stacey Nuveman (UCLA) — 90
  • 4. Stacie Chambers (Arizona) — 87
  • T5. Leah Braatz (Arizona) — 85
  • T5. Laura Espinoza (Arizona) — 85
  • T7. Shelby Pendley* (Arizona & Oklahoma) — 84
  • T7. Jessie Harper — 84

Power outage

While Stanford’s pitching staff has only surrendered four homers all season, their hitters have only hit eight.

The left- and right-field fences at Boyd & Jill Smith Family Stadium are slightly longer than at Hillenbrand, measuring at 205 feet instead of 200. The ball doesn’t quite carry the same way in Palo Alto either, thanks to it being at sea level and the overall dampness of the Bay Area, especially at night.

The Cardinal as a whole are a pretty standard offensive team, ranking sixth (of nine) in the Pac-12 in batting average (.318) and seventh in slugging (.450).