TOS ends Fowler’s career as UA softball meets #1 Oregon

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                </div>  Both Arizona and Arizona State softball teams have left their big tests for last, as the Wildcats wrap up the season with a three-game series against the No. 1 […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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Both Arizona and Arizona State softball teams have left their big tests for last, as the Wildcats wrap up the season with a three-game series against the No. 1 team in the nation and the Sun Devils take on the No. 2 team.

No. 3 ASU will count on one of the best pitching tandems in the nation – Dallas Escobedo and Mackenzie Popescue – to  upset  second-ranked UCLA.  But No. 9 Arizona will have to take on the Oregon Ducks with a pitching staff that won’t be at full strength for the regular-season finale  – and will have to limp into the post-season without its ace right-hander, Kenzie Fowler.

According to an article in the Arizona Daily Star, Fowler has been diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) in her left shoulder, forcing the senior from Canyon del Oro High School from the mound and essentially closing out a remarkable and memorable high school and college career.

She had already become one of the most recognized pitchers in Arizona by the time she finished high school, leading CDO to three state championships and a runner-up appearance.  In 2008 she was named the Gatorade National Player of the Year and earned the prestigious honor again the next year, when she was also voted the NHSCA National Player of the Year.

In her first year of college ball she showed her talents would translate to the next level.  As a freshman, she made 52 appearances and literally put the team on her back and pitched the Cats to the NCAA championship game before losing to UCLA.  Her 38-9 record was the second-best for a freshman in school history.

Unfortunately, the rest of her career was plagued with injuries, including a bout with TOS in her other shoulder early in her college career.  She tried to pitch through back pain during her junior year and redshirted her senior year to recover from surgery to correct the back problems.  And this season she missed games after a fluke injury when a foul ball found her head.  She closes out with an 8-6 record and a 3.38 ERA.

But the return of the TOS, this time in the other shoulder, has become the final straw and the two-time All American will have to watch from the dugout while her teammates try to get past the Ducks this weekend, and then hopefully hold it together into the post-season.

The addition of Estela Pinon, who transferred in last season from Yavapai College in Prescott, has suddenly taken on a new importance.  Pinon, who is the team leader in strikeouts and having a banner year, will join with fellow senior Shelby Babcock to share the majority of the pitching chores going forward.  Babcock and Fowler formed a fearsome pitching duo for several years, and Babcock carried the load while Fowler recuperated last year.

As good as this pitching staff is, the Cats have run up their 40-11 record with a ton of offense.  They lead the nation in home runs (95), scoring (7.78 runs/game), and slugging percentage (.649).  They have the No. 3 hitter on the NCAA home-run list, catcher Chelsea Goodacre, who has piled up 21 round trips this season.

And a stingy defense boasts a .977 fielding percentage, which ranks seventh in the country.

However, Oregon has an offense that ranks fifth in the country with a .345 batting average, and the Ducks combine that with a dominant pitching staff that has a 1.73 team ERA, which is 10th-best nationally.  Their ace, Cheridan Hawkins, leads the Pac-12 Conference with a 1.42 ERA.  That all explains why they have been the top-ranked team in the country for the last five weeks.

And the Ducks are very motivated this weekend.  If they win two of the three games, they clinch the Pac-12 title.

But this series is in Tucson, where the Cats have been unbeatable this season.  They’re 27-0, which is the best home record in the country.

Should be a great series, with one of the most difficult challenges of the season for Arizona.  But not as difficult as it will be for Kenzie Fowler, who will have to watch the end of her season, and her career, from the home dugout in Hillenbrand Stadium.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)