Fifth-year senior Hanah Bowen was supposed to anchor Arizona softball’s pitching staff this season. The right-hander was the only one of the four pitchers on the roster with any significant college experience at all in a bullpen that consists of her, sophomores Devyn Netz and Jessie Fontes, and freshman Madi Elish. For now, Netz, Fontes and Elish will go it on their own.
“She has not worked her way out of the rotation,” head coach Caitlin Lowe said. “She’s just unavailable at this point until further notice. And so we’ll just have to kind of get updated as we go... It’s not an injury and I can’t really comment on it until it’s appropriate.”
Every response Lowe gave indicated that the coaching staff was short on information about the issue, at least information that they were willing to share. Bowen is still on the roster, but she is not “with the team” according to Lowe. She was not at practice on Tuesday afternoon and she did not appear with them at the Mary Nutter Classic this past weekend.
In Bowen’s absence, the young pitchers are getting the opportunity to get more time in the circle, including against top competition like No. 1 Oklahoma. If there’s a silver lining in the situation, that is it. Bowen will be gone after this season regardless of when she returns, and the Wildcats will need the three younger pitchers to take on bigger roles.
Currently, Netz is taking on the most responsibility. The sophomore had the most experience of the three coming into the season, but that’s not saying a lot. The Wildcats had two super seniors and Bowen last year. They pitched the vast majority of innings.
Netz pitched 21.1 innings her freshman season. She made 10 appearances in the circle including three starts, allowing opposing batters to hit .232. She went 3-0 on the season and had two saves. She also got five at-bats for a total of 14 appearances.
Appearances were even more scarce for fellow sophomore Fontes. She made just two appearances, pitching just 2.0 innings all season. She gave up two hits and struck out three of the eight batters she faced.
With just 23.1 IP among the three of them, heading into the season it was hoped that Bowen would lead the group of underclassmen. She seemed ambivalent about that role prior to opening day, saying that the team knew where it needed to go.
“I’m the quiet type of leader,” Bowen said on Feb. 8. “I’m not the one that’s going to be talking. I like to lead by example, but like I said, this year and having such a young team, I don’t have to worry that much about leading our team because they know our competition and they know the work processes and what we want to be at the end of the year.”
For now, it is Netz who has stepped up to be that leader in the absence of the senior both statistically and with the intangibles. Despite giving up three earned runs in 3.1 IP against No. 1 Oklahoma, Netz has a team-best 1.17 ERA. Batters are hitting .204 off of her so far.
“I thought Devyn took a big step up in a leadership role because we were looking to her and she grabbed on entirely and just wanted the ball in every single game,” Lowe said. “You have to kind of reel her back. Like, you’re not going to be in every single inning. But, at the same time, she wanted to go right at hitters. And I saw her grow up this weekend a lot, which is nice to see. And really, we’re going to need to have that in the future too.”
Behind Netz, who pitched 15 innings at the Mary Nutter Classic, is freshman Elish. Elish has pitched 20.1 innings in nine appearances this season, including three starts. She has given up eight earned runs for a 2.75 ERA and a 1-1 record. Over the first three weeks of play, Elish has struck out 14 and walked three, but she has also given up four home runs.
“She rose to the occasion and it’s the one blessing that comes out of this is,” Lowe said. “We get to see what they can do, and I think Madi stepped up in a big way. And her ball was moving like crazy early on, and I think her being able to sustain that through a whole weekend is going to be huge for us.”
As for Elish’s speed, it “depends on the day,” Lowe said. Generally speaking, it is in the low 60s according to the coach but appears much faster because of her quality changeup.
Fontes is pitching fewer innings, but she is getting better results than Elish. The lesser-used sophomore has 11 IP in four appearances, including one start. She has allowed three earned runs, including a home run. Batters are hitting just .190 against her and have drawn three walks.
How long will the trio be the entirety of the Arizona pitching staff?
“When I know more, you’ll know more,” Lowe said.