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What we learned from Arizona softball’s sweep of Utah

COLLEGE SOFTBALL: MAR 07 Boise State at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The cynical observer might say that we didn’t learn anything from Arizona’s domination over the Utah Utes. Both teams were who we thought they were to borrow a phrase. That’s not entirely true.

Here are some takeaways from the series.

Hanah Bowen is the Wildcats’ No. 1 pitcher

Arizona head coach Mike Candrea didn’t want to declare that Hanah Bowen is currently the Wildcats’ No. 1 pitcher, but let’s face it: Hanah Bowen is currently the Wildcats’ No. 1 pitcher. At the very least, the competition is between her and Alyssa Denham.

The junior started Friday night’s game against the Utes. While Candrea may be right that not all coaches are throwing their top pitcher on Friday night this season, with a team that has been struggling with the pressure of high expectations and inconsistent results, getting off to a hot start is vital.

If you want to get off to a hot start, putting the most consistent pitcher in the circle is the obvious choice. At this point in time, that pitcher is Bowen.

It also allows her to rest between appearances. That is vital according to Candrea, who believes Denham is more effective in back-to-back appearances than Bowen is. To that point, Denham appeared in both games on Saturday, once as a starter and once in relief, while Bowen pitched on Friday and Sunday.

Bowen now has a 1.51 ERA, by far the lowest on the staff. She gives up more home runs than Denham (0.14 per inning vs 0.05 per inning), but she walks fewer batters (0.17 walks per inning vs 0.29 per inning).

At 5-foot-4, Bowen is not the prototypical pitcher on a Candrea-coached team. She is the most petite pitcher on the staff (everyone else is at least 5-foot-8), but she doesn’t sacrifice velocity. She has even been able to add a few miles per hour without affecting control or movement.

“I really don’t really pay attention with my velocity, but from what my pitching coach says I have gained a couple of miles per hour,” Bowen said. “But I just tried to focus on movement and try to change speeds.”

Bowen topped out at about 65-66 mph all weekend.

Mariah Lopez is struggling. How can she get past it?

On the other side of the velocity equation, Mariah Lopez has been struggling with it according to Candrea. Whatever the problem, Lopez is not shying away from it.

“I think it’s pretty obvious that I have been struggling but I just have been really getting to work within my bullpen sessions with Coach (Taryne Mowatt-McKinney),” Lopez said. “Just taking anything I can and working from that because I’m not giving up. We have a whole lot of season left and I’m not ending my senior year this way. And I’m doing it for my teammates as well.”

After she pitched in the non-conference half of Saturday’s doubleheader, she was seen talking to Bruce Johnston, the athletic trainer for the softball team. Based on the gestures, the conversation focused on the lower half of the body.

When she spoke to the media after the game, Lopez said that she is currently working on her leg drive to try to get herself back on track, but she wasn’t injured. Candrea, on the other hand, spoke about getting her “healthy,” referring specifically to the leg drive as the most obvious issue when velocity diminishes.

“I feel pretty good,” Lopez said. “Our strength and conditioning staff has done a really great job with us. Also, our athletic trainer so that’s really not the issue. I mean as [Sharlize Palacios] mentioned it’s the mental side of it. Physically, obviously you can have issues. You know, aches and pains but I feel relatively good and it’s just the mental side that we kind of have to work for.”

Arizona is way better at home? Not necessarily

If you didn’t pay close attention to the makeup of Arizona’s schedule, you might conclude that this is a team that just can’t put things together on the road. While it’s true that most teams play better at home, especially during a non-pandemic season when full crowds are allowed, that’s not Arizona’s problem this year.

The Wildcats had an unfortunate schedule draw this season that put all of their most difficult games on the road except for the final series against UCLA.

Arizona is 2-8 against Top 25 teams this season, but the margins are very close.

Eight of the 10 games against the top 25 have been within two runs, whether Arizona lost or won. Four of those games were one-run games, including the 1-0 victory over Florida State. The only exceptions were the 8-1 loss to Arizona State and the 15-1 run-rule victory over the Sun Devils.

That speaks to both mental and physical performance. As Candrea said prior to the Utah series, the team seems to be expecting bad things to happen. Attempts to be perfect often lead to physical mistakes that make all the difference when games are so close.

“I think our biggest opponent is ourselves sometimes and there’s no team on the other side of the field that will beat us,” Palacios said. “I think we’ll beat ourselves sometimes, so we just need to play our game and be confident in what we have.”