At UA, it's Softball Nation
Craig Grau, The Explorer, The Wildcats celebrate at home plate after Friday’s victory over the Oklahoma Sooners.

Last Friday, the action stormed at the University of Arizona’s Hillenbrand Field.

The wind swirled, corkscrewing softballs in mid-air, carrying several of them toward left field, as University of Arizona spectators donned their heavy jackets.

Ultimately, the Wildcats came away with a 2-1 win, on the backs of hot bats that thrived in the winds, delivering a pair of solo homers.

In that left field corner, we nestled with a handful of fans ducking each time the fluorescent yellow orbs careened overhead, like a mortar barrage. Occasionally, the errant shots would threaten cars parked along East 2nd Street, as we held our breaths to see who’d lose a windshield.

We didn’t brace to see whether their girls would send the Oklahoma Sooners packing, though. We tensed only to suppress our shivers. A church-worth of easygoing faith permeated the stadium, which given the weather, could’ve found the Pittsburgh Steelers taking the field afterwards.

While the state of Oklahoma offers little in the way of interesting highway scenery, their Sooners gave a good fight. They also put forth a handful of noisy Land-of-Choctaw spectators, who chattered and howled with each of their girls’ plays.

For them, it was soon clear that Arizona ace Taryne Mowatt was starving the oxygen from their team — especially as the Arizona crowd chanted her name whenever she fireballed a strikeout to close the late innings.

In fact, the sole effort that Oklahoma’s possibly-drunken left-field bleacher corps mustered after the sixth was to run out behind the outfield wall and toss Brittany Lastrapes’ homer back into center field.

Our new favorite usher, a fellow by the name of Maury, stood nearby and worked the gate for Arizona’s coaches. Between fetching errant balls and entertaining young kids, it was obvious he thoroughly enjoyed the job.

The Air Force veteran and now-retired UofA grad, who joked about being a “failed athlete,” has ushered a decade of Wildcats events, nearly everything offered on the roster. While football’s his favorite, softball’s fast becoming a tough ticket to snare, he said — even when you’re on the payroll.

So tough that he’s only managed to draw detail at Hillenbrand Field for five or six games this year.

That situation’s probably only going to continue for Maury, as the Arizona’s softballers continue to cement themselves as a solid draw, with over 2,000 turning out for Friday’s matchup.

Saturday confirmed as much. The previous day’s attendance was eclipsed, as Mowatt pulled off her 100th win for the storied program, which awaits the 2010 arrival of Canyon Del Oro hurler Kenzie Fowler.

With that victory, the Wildcats began preparing for their 20th Women’s College World Series bid.

It’s the sort of situation that could turn into a dynasty, given Fowler encapsulates the ‘Cats streak of rolling through playoff stretches atop the mound with one dominant thrower. Here’s hoping that continues, as the Wildcats continue the quest for their third straight title, this week.

Bear Down, Cats!

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