UA softball struts its stuff at Fall Invite as Fowler returns

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                </div>The party at Hillenbrand Stadium has wrapped up and, as usual, the host is the only one that had any fun. The University of Arizona Wildcats opened their 2014 softball […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The party at Hillenbrand Stadium has wrapped up and, as usual, the host is the only one that had any fun.

The University of Arizona Wildcats opened their 2014 softball season by inviting five teams to participate in this year’s Fall Invitational on their Tucson campus, which gave them a chance to build a little pre-season confidence against a field of smaller schools, in this case all two-year colleges.

And that’s particularly important this year since the Cats have a sea of new faces to incorporate into the system, as 11 newcomers dot the 2014 roster.

But Arizona’s display of offensive firepower was still impressive as the Cats rolled through the competition, outscoring the hapless teams that accepted their invitation this year, 63-6.  Three of the games went just five innings, in accordance with the NCAA mercy rule.

From the results over the weekend, it looks like Chelsea Goodacre will continue to be the primary source of power at the plate going into the new season.  The junior from Temecula, Calif., closed out the five-game series by blasting five home runs during Sunday’s doubleheader against Cypress College and Pima Community College.

In the Invitational opener, she collected four RBIs against Phoenix College, and the next day drove in five runs against Arizona Western and went 4-for-4 in the nightcap against Central Arizona College, a traditional power in the JUCO game.  She hit a three-run homer against AWC and hit two more round trips against CAC.

Pima and CAC were the only teams to score on the Cats, each putting up three runs.

Goodacre led the team last year in slugging percentage, RBIs, home runs, and total bases.  She started all 59 games, 48 as catcher and 11 as designated player, and finished the season with 17 home runs, which put her fifth among Pac-12 players.

And this year that power at the plate will be supported by a pitching staff that has good depth, as Kenzie Fowler returns to the mound for the first time in more than a year.

The redshirt senior sat out last season following back surgery in October of 2012, so her appearance in Saturday’s game against CAC was the first since May of 2012.  She struck out six and allowed one run on three hits in the four innings she worked.  Her first start came in the tournament finale against Pima, when she went four innings again and struck out six.

Fowler, who led Arizona into the 2010 Women’s College World Series (WCWS) and played UCLA for the national title, began individual workouts with the coaches before fall practice began.

“I think she’s in a good place, emotionally and physically,” said head coach Mike Candrea last month when her comeback was beginning to take shape.  “I hope she gets the fire re-ignited because, more than anything, her body is feeling good again.  First time in three years she has a body that feels healthy.”

Fowler hurt her back in January of 2012 and played in discomfort throughout that season, despite repeated attempts to get relief through physical therapy.

Expectations have been high for Fowler throughout her college career, after earning two Gatorade National Player of the Year honors while playing at Canyon del Oro High School in Tucson.  She set 13 pitching records with the Dorados and finished her prep career with 1,449 career strike-outs and was named the 2009 NHSCA National Player of the Year.

Her return means Candrea now has three strong seniors on a talented pitching staff, when you add Shelby Babcock and Estela Pinon to the mix.  Pinon transferred in from Yavapai College in Prescott last season, but Babcock is the other half of the dynamic duo that she and Fowler formed earlier in their careers.  Together, they carried the Cats through a couple of deep playoff runs.  Last year, Babcock carried the load while Fowler was forced to watch from the dugout.

If Fowler returns to her freshman form, when she became just the second freshman in UofA history to record a 30-win season, she could be the X factor for a program that has depth at just about every position.

And all the potential for a return to the WCWS in 2014.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)