With Arizona on the bubble for postseason play and almost assuredly headed to someone else’s ballpark if they do make the postseason, the softball seniors are heading into what will probably be their last weekend in Hillenbrand Stadium. After five years for both Peanut Martinez and Hanah Bowen and a year back home in Tucson for Bailey Thompson, it’s a time of looking back on their lives as athletes and forward to what comes after. They just have some things to take care of first.
“I’m pretty excited but sad at the same time,” Martinez said. “I feel like my whole life has kind of been surrounded by softball, so I don’t know. I think it’s a little mixed emotions but I’m excited. We’re not done yet.”
After losing seven seniors last year, it’s a small group saying their goodbyes this weekend. The opportunity to have that time with the crowds that support Arizona softball year in and year out is a fulfilling end to long careers that saw the program return to the Women’s College World Series twice after a long drought.
“We get to see all the fans because we have such great fans,” Bowen said. “And it’s just exciting, especially seeing the past years of everybody, all the seniors...now it’s my time, now it’s Peanut’s time, it’s now Bailey’s time.”
For Thompson, returning to Tucson to play for the Wildcats was an opportunity to be around family for her final year in the sport after spending four years in the Pacific Northwest. She was able to have her dad in the stands for many of her games and spend time with her mom, who has been suffering from health problems.
“After I’d finished up just in Seattle, I kind of was like at a weird relationship with the sport,” Thompson said. “But when I went in the portal, and then (Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe) reached out to me to come back here for my last year, it just, it felt like fate. It felt like the pieces just kind of aligned really well and worked out for me.”
The lessons taken away from their years at Arizona aren’t necessarily softball lessons, despite the fact that Martinez and Bowen played four years for one of the greatest coaches in the sport.
“There’s so many, but I think one big thing would just kind of be I feel like just understanding that I’m not just a softball player,” Martinez said. “Coach (Mike Candrea) always preached that to me. I may not have a great weekend or a great this or that, but overall, that doesn’t define who I am as a person, and I think that’s the biggest thing to take away, especially with all the mental health stuff that’s been going on. It’s just, I am who I am before I am a softball player.”
That’s a lesson that has been important this season, as the team has not reached the level of success that’s become expected in Tucson. Despite only being at Arizona for a year, Thompson said she felt she could call these women in 10 years if she needed something. That’s a feeling both Martinez and Bowen echoed.
“I feel like we have such a great connection and just a bond that I feel like I can always turn to them when I need them,” Martinez said. “And just having them by my side is just kind of really helped a lot throughout this year. Just knowing that if something doesn’t go our way, we can always grow from it. We just move on and we have each other.”
As the three seniors prepare to move on to whatever’s next, they also hope to leave behind the Arizona legacy for those who will return. The struggles on the field this year won’t define the program or the time they spent here.
“I think we’re gonna be great,” Bowen said about the future of the Wildcats. “We’re still going to be a young staff, but I think we have a lot of potential and we have a lot of young talent and I just can’t wait to see all the years in the future for them.”
The three players will be honored on senior day on Saturday, May 14.
Stanford Cardinal (34-18, 9-12 Pac-12) @ Arizona Wildcats (32-18, 7-14 Pac-12)
Time and location: All three games will be held at Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium. Game one will be at 5 p.m. MST/PDT on Thursday, May 12. Game two also starts at 5 p.m. on Friday, May 13. The senior day game will start at 12 p.m. MST/PDT on Saturday, May 14.
TV: Game one will air on Pac-12 Network, Pac-12 Arizona, and Pac-12 Bay Area. Game two airs on Pac-12 Arizona and Pac-12 Bay Area. Game three will only air on Pac-12 Bay Area.
Rankings: Arizona is ranked No. 25 in the ESPN/USA Softball poll and is receiving votes in the USA Today/NFCA poll. The Wildcats are 40th in the RPI.
Stanford is receiving votes in the USA Today/NFCA poll. The Cardinal are No. 32 in the RPI.
Standings: Arizona is tied with Oregon State for last in the conference. Stanford is fourth. Last place and fourth place are separated by just two games.
Expectations: The matchup will be one of Stanford’s strong pitching going against Arizona’s strong offense. The Cardinal have Alana Vawter, who leads the conference with 21 pitching wins and is fifth with a 1.63 ERA. Arizona has several of the top hitters in the conference and is top two in the league in most offensive stats.
The Wildcats could solidify their place in the postseason by taking at least two. They were included as one of the last five in by D1 Softball in its latest tournament projections. Stanford should be safely in regardless of what happens this weekend.