UofA softball pounding the fences, just like last year

The UofA softball team had an early test Sunday.  It got a passing grade, but results were not quite conclusive.

After rolling through the season-opening Kajikawa Classic tournament in Tempe, winning all six games, the No. 2-ranked Wildcats decided they needed a stiffer test to get a better feel for just where their game was this early in the season.

The Wildcats piled up 27 hits during the tournament, including 16 against Nevada.  They have scored 51 runs in their six games so far.

But they still weren’t sure they were ready for the challenges that lie ahead.

Enter No. 5 Missouri, which came in for a weekend doubleheader.  Last year the Tigers advanced to the Women’s College World Series after defeating Pac-10 champion UCLA in the Super Regional round.  So far this season, they have taken two of three games from then-No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, run-ruling the Tide in the final game.

UofA coach Mike Candrea figured Missouri would be a good test.

And they were.

The Wildcats split the doubleheader, winning the first game, 5-0, and dropping the second, 10-5.

Freshman Kenzie Fowler, a local product from Canyon del Oro HS, took the mound for the first game and sparkled.  She threw 118 pitches in seven innings, striking out nine and allowing just two hits.  And Baillie Kirker, another freshman, supplied the offense as she drove in all five of Arizona’s runs with two home runs, a three-run shot in the third inning and a two-run homer in the fourth.

Kirker, who can play both first and third base, is on fire and trying to re-set the tempo the Cats left off with last year.  She now has four home runs and nine RBIs  in just eight games.  Last year, the Cats broke the NCAA record for home runs in a single season with 134.  They finished 2009 with a .339 batting average, second highest in the nation.

But the Cats’ defense and pitching struggled in the second game against Mizzou.  They gave up 10 runs in three innings when there were already two outs on the board.

Senior pitcher Sarah Akamine started the second game and gave up five runs in the first inning, attributed in part to several defensive miscues.  By the third inning, the Cats were in a 10-2 hole that proved too deep to climb out.

But Akamine had proved her worth earlier, pitching her first career no-hitter in the Kajikawa Classic, beating Western Michigan, 13-0, in five innings.  So consistency needs a little work.

The games against Missouri turned out to be a good test.  But it may also prove to have a greater significance since top-ranked Washington lost to Utah.  That might mean a step up in the rankings to No. 1 for the Cats.

So I guess that would mean they definitely passed this test.