Look at this score, and you'd figure Arizona beat Northwestern with power and pitching. An 8-0 throttling tends to lead to that conclusion. Thing is, Arizona won the first game of the best-of-three championship series at the Women's College World Series on the same fulcrum that swings just about every athletic competition. Speed. "Speed in this game is tough to defend because it does put a lot of pressure on the defense, Arizona coach Mike Candrea said. "It forces them to do things quicker than they're used to doing them. "Speed kills. Arizona's did Monday night at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium. No doubt it had some timely hitting when it busted open the game in the third inning. The desert 'Cats scored five runs in the frame, demoralizing the city 'Cats and giving pitcher Alicia Hollowell more than enough cushion. But the rally started because of Arizona's speed. It was the snowball that started the avalanche. Adrienne Acton, the nine-hole hitter, led off the inning. You'd think starting with the bottom of the lineup would've given the advantage to Northwestern. Thing is, Acton is like a second leadoff hitter. She is speedy. And when she laid down a pretty bunt, she beat the throw to first. Up next: Caitlin Lowe. Acton might be speedy, but Lowe is downright ridiculous. She doesn't have wheels. She has afterburners. She is a slap hitter, too. That means she takes a running start when she hits. And that means she's about halfway to first before the ball leaves her bat. Hitting that way with that kind of speed is a criminal act in 47 states. Lowe might be the fastest player the college game has ever seen. Natasha Watley, who played at UCLA before joining the Olympic team, had amazing wheels. Sarah Fekete, Tennessee's leadoff hitter, could get down the first-base line in a hurry, too. Put them in a 60-foot race and my money's on Lowe. She can get to first before the ping of the bat stops echoing around the stadium. And opponents know it. You could tell Northwestern shortstop Tammy Williams did when Lowe pounded a chopper to her. Williams fielded it on the run, snagged it cleanly, but when she looked toward first, Lowe was practically there. "When you see us put the ball on the ground and force them to make decisions quickly, a lot of things can happen, Candrea said. "That's what we kind of live and die on. And kill opponents with. Williams bobbled the ball a bit but threw it anyway. Her throw went wide of first allowing the runners to advance another base. Instead of runners on first and second with no outs - already a tough spot for Northwestern - Arizona had runners on second and third. The stage was set. "Their speed is really their game, Northwestern coach Kate Drohan said. "They do such a nice job of putting the ball in play with their speedy runners on to put pressure on the infield. The next hitter, Autumn Champion, hit what would otherwise be harmless ground ball to second. With Acton and Lowe on base, though, no hit is harmless. Acton broke for home. Northwestern second baseman Ashley Crane made a good throw. Problem was, Acton was already past catcher Jamie Dotson, extending her left hand and catching the back point of the plate. Compounding matters, Champion made it all the way to second on the throw. Credit Arizona's speed again. Not just Champion's. Lowe's, too. Northwestern didn't even attempt to throw to second and nab Champion. It was just too risky with Lowe only 60 feet from home plate. "From there, Drohan said, "things just kind of took over. With the meat of Arizona's lineup coming, Northwestern was so out of sorts that it couldn't even manage to field a routine pop fly. Crane collided with Williams in shallow left field. Who knows what the second baseman was doing over there? All of it goes back to Arizona's speed. Without it, Acton might not have beat out that throw. Without it, Lowe might not have forced an error. Without it, Arizona might not have gotten on the roll it did. With it, Arizona ran over Northwestern. Speed like that is bound to leave treadmarks.
Jenni Carlson: 475-4125, email@example.com
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