Wildcats Take On USA Juggernaut, Alumni and UNLV

March 22, 2004

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This Week

The Arizona softball team finishes up non-conference play this week at home with a pair of exhibition contests and a doubleheader against Nevada-Las Vegas. The Cats meet their own coach - Mike Candrea - and the USA Olympic team in an exhibition game at 6 p.m. Friday, play the annual Alumni Game at noon Saturday and do the real thing in a final non-conference doubleheader against UNLV at noon Sunday. Among players expected to return for the alumni contest include Olympians Leah O'Brien-Amico, Lovie Jung, Jennie Finch and Nicole Giordano, Leah Braatz, Stacey Iveson, Amy Hillenbrand and current coach Nancy Evans and student assistant Lisha Ribellia, among others. Finch, the 2001 national player of the year, is expected to pitch for the USA Team against the Cats Friday night. The game will be produced for subsequent taped delay cablecast by ESPN later this summer.

Team USA

The Cats face the best team in the world Friday. On its 'Aiming for Athens' tour of the country the club is 23-0 and has outscored opponents 212-8, with 47 home runs. Crystl Bustos leads the team with a .569 batting average, 13 home runs and 44 RBI. She also has10 doubles and a triple. Former UA great Jennie Finch tossed her third solo no-hitter of the tour last week against DePaul in the Kia Klassic, giving her a hand in all five of the USA Team's no-hitters. Finch has a streak of 41 and two-thirds innings of shutout ball going. UA coach Mike Candrea, the head coach of the group (along with Stanford's John Rittman and South Florida's Ken Eriksen) has a ton of weapons to use, including former Honda winner Lisa Fernandez, NCAA home run career leader Stacey Nuveman and a host of All-Americans.

The Coaches

Larry Ray (Idaho State '74) is 34-1 in his tenure as acting head coach of the Wildcats. Including five seasons (four of competition) building a Florida program he has a career record of 203-107. His work with the Arizona program dates to 1986 and he was Candrea's top assistant for 10 years. Acting associate head coach Nancy Evans, a former Honda Award winner as a player, has been an assistant at UA since 1999. UA's 34-game streak to open the year gives Ray the best start in Arizona history.

The Coach

Arizona's Mike Candrea carries a career record of 982-191 in 18 years at UA, but puts it on hold this season while he's on partial leave to be head coach of the U.S. Olympic Team. The eight-time Pac-10 Coach of the Year is a member of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He has led Arizona to six national championships and seven Pac-10 titles. Candrea has led UA to 16 consecutive College World Series.

Last Week

The Cats took over the top spot in the NFCA /USA Today and ESPN/USA Softball polls, then put on a good show at the Kia Klassic, winning six straight before falling to familiar foe Washington, 7-6, in the tourney title game. UA's Alicia Hollowell won five games for the Cats, pitching 35 innings and striking out 68. She tossed a one-hit shutout against No. 10 Louisiana-Lafayette, striking out 18 and missing a perfect game because of a seventh-inning hit. threw a three-hit shutout against No. 15 Fresno State (17K), three-hit Illinois and, three-hit No. 7 Oklahoma (12K) and won a semifinal over Illinois with a four-hitter. Against the Huskies, Arizona fell behind 5-0, but battled back to take a 6-5 lead into the sixth inning. UW's Aimee Minor clouted a two-run home run in the sixth to put the Huskies back in the lead. The Cats threatened with one-out base hits by Wendy Allen and Mackenzie Vandergeet in the bottom of the seventh but couldn't come up with the key hit. The loss ended the best start in UA history at 34 games and 'dropped' the Cats to 34-1. Facing the best pitching it had faced all year, Arizona still managed to hit .318 in the tournament and outscored opponents 40-9. Hollowell saw her earned run average improve a bit to 0.53 and moved her record to 22-0. Her 293 strikeouts already are No. 4 on the UA single-season chart.

The Rankings

UA reached the No. 1 ranking last week, giving it the top spot in the NFCA poll at least once every year since 1993. Arizona was ranked No. 2 in the preseason NFCA poll, and No. 3 in the ESPN/USA Softball poll. Feb. 11: 2/3. Feb. 18: 2/3. Feb. 25: 2/2. March 3: 2/2. March 10: 2/2. March 17: 1/1. March 24: TBA. UA has been ranked steadily since 1988 by the NFCA.

Pac-10 Players of the Week

Pitcher Alicia Hollowell earned the honor three times this year -- 2-24, 3-2, and 3-9. Outfielder Autumn Champion won on 2-17 and Wendy Allen on 2-24. Those are the 87th honors for UA, and eighth for Hollowell. UA nominated Hollowell and Vandergeest this week.

Wildcat Softball Notes

...Arizona has three no-hitters this year - two by Alicia Hollowell (perfect game against Indiana, against Missouri) and one by Leslie Wolfe against Dayton... The Cats have 19 shutouts, led by Hollowell with 10 solo and three combined, three by Wendy Allen (plus one combined) and two by Wolfe (plus four combined)... UA's season ERA is 0.93, which if stood up would be a top 10 figure in UA history... ...Hollowell's double-digit strikeouts in four games last week gave her 17 such contests, including a school-record 20 strikeouts in the perfect game against Indiana. She had 18 against ULL last week, 17 vs., Fresno State and 17 against Oklahoma State this year... She moved from off the chart to the No. 4 spot on the UA single-season list with 68 last week and 293 total... She's clearly within reach of her school record of 394 set last year as a freshman... ...The Cats continue to steal bases, with 13 last week, pushing the season total to 96 in 109 attempts. That figure is the ninth best season total in UA's 2 seasons of Division I ball... The record is 136 by the 1998 team. Freshman leadoff hitter Caitlin Lowe leads the way with 36 thefts in 37 tries, already the eighth-best season total in Wildcat history. Ten more more moves her past Lauren Bauer (38 in 2000 and in 2001), Vivian Holm (41 in 1990) and Bauer (43 in 1997) into the No. 4 spot... Autumn Champion is behind Lowe with 19 SB in 21 tries... ...Champion and Lowe are contending for the team batting lead, with Champion back on top this week at .495... She was a first-team All-America pick as a freshman in 2003 when she hit .434... ...Three-hole hitter Wendy Allen continues to lead the team in runs batted in, with 51, plus has the best slugging percentage at .815... She could reach a hallowed run-production list - the season top 10 chart - with continued success. Every UA player on the list earned first-team All-America honors those seasons. No. 10: Leah Braatz with 78 in 1997...

Odds & Ends...

Lowe has scored 53 runs in 127 plate appearances, a remarkable . 417 'scoring' average... Arizona has a nice edge in scoring - 260 runs to 35 by opponents... UA's 34-game winning streak to open the year broke the record 31-0 starts by the 2001 and 1994 Arizona clubs. UA also opened 30-0 in 1997... UA set a school record with seven home runs against Boston University this year... Vandergeest slugged her second grand slam of the year against No. 7 Oklahoma last week. She's No. 4 in UA history with 55 career blasts... Jackie Coburn, a junior, is one yard-ball shy of reaching the No. 10 spot with 40... Lowe and Champion have two or more hits in 15 different games, but freshman shortstop Kristie Fox is picking up the pace with 12 two-or-mores... Fox is hitting a solid .392 with eight homers and 26 RBI... AA has trailed in only five games this year - vs. Missouri, Stanford, Georgia, Mississippi and Washington... Three players have been named to the 'watch list' for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award -- Hollowell, Vandergeest and Lowe...

Probable Lineup

Caitlin Lowe-cf, Autumn Champion-lf, Wendy Allen-dh/1b, Mackenzie Vandergeest-c, Shelly Schultz-1b/2b, Jackie Coburn-3b, Kristie Fox-ss, Samantha Quintero-2b, Crystal Farley/Allyson Von Liechtenstein or Candace Abrams-rf, Alicia Hollowell-p. Reserves: Leslie Wolfe (p), Erin Palomarez (ph/1b), Jennifer Martinez (ph/3b), Cortney Nix (pr), Betsy Wilson (pr), Annalyn Hollingsworth (pr).

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