June 14, 2006 - Used to be, Tucson was a basketball town. Point Guard U. to be exact based on the revolving door of backcourt specialists that flooded Lute Olson's University of Arizona men's basketball program.
The game of softball - and its flame-throwing pitchers - is making a push to become the preeminent sport in Southern Arizona. How does Fireball U. sound?
As UA softball thrives, and winning the Women's College Softball World Series for the seventh time since 1991 certainly qualifies as thriving, so to does the sport as a whole in the surrounding community.
This spring, Tucson is home to both the NCAA Division I softball champs and the National Junior College Athletic Conference champs, Pima Community College.
Offense is nice and solid fielding will take any team far in the post-season but as the Wildcats and Aztecs proved: there is no substitute for quality pitching. UA pitcher Alicia Hollowell verified that with as dominating a performance as there ever was in the World Series.
Hollowell's line: 64 strikeouts in 43 innings, two earned runs in a record six complete games.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the mighty Hollowell - who temporarily made us forget about another UA softball icon named Jenny Finch - is off to the National Pro Fast Pitch league. Fortunately for Tucson, she's staying put in town and pitching for the Tucson-based Arizona Heat.
Wildcat head coach Mike Candrea has always had a knack for reloading his squad but replacing back-to-back mound legends in Finch and Hollowell could prove a daunting task.
Quality, and borderline superstar, starting pitching doesn't necessarily have to be a concern for Candrea and the Wildcats for at least the next seven years and it can be that way using local talent.
That's the beauty of winning. It breeds more winning and has a tributary effect throughout the community.
Likely, the starting nod will go to Hollowell's backup Taryne Mowatt. Mowatt finished the year with 21 wins and with as many losses as Hollowell, five. In 163.2 innings the Corona, Calif. native fanned 250 batters with a 1.28 earned run average. Not to mention, she's only a sophomore.
Mowatt has the potential to be lights out. Only time will tell. If for some reason she isn't - and there's no evidence that says she won't - Tucson has several options to keep the Wildcats close to the top of the nation for years to come.
The first option is Dana Alcocer who plays for former Tucson softball star Stacy Iveson at Pima and is a former Canyon Del Oro High School grad. Alcocer capped off a remarkable freshman campaign for the Aztecs that culminated with her getting three wins and two saves in Pima's five-game run to its national title.
She finished the year with a mark of 27-3, while her post-season efforts netted her MVP awards in both the regional and national tournaments.
Alcocer is the proverbial gamer. A year before leading Pima to a national title, she put CDO on her back and led the Dorados to a 5A high school state title.
With three years of eligibility left, she could slide into the rotation at the UA and give the Wildcats a potent one-two punch. As a senior she could take over the role as No. 1 - if she doesn't sooner.
Granted, Alcocer could very well go anywhere else in the nation not named UCLA or the University of Texas and be an instant star for the remaining three years of her eligibility. Plus, the lure of winning another national title at Pima is well within reason; the Aztecs return 12 players from this year's squad.
With Mowatt and Alcocer the Wildcats would be set through the 2009 season. By inking Alcocer, Candrea can focus on building the team around the two hurlers.
After 2009, it would be a colossal mistake for the Wildcats to let Kenzie Fowler leave the Grand Canyon State. Also a CDO product, Fowler led the Dorados as a freshman back to the state title game, one year after Alcocer accomplished the feat.
CDO lost in the finals but it's not without reason to think that before her high school career is up she'll be back for another try. As a freshman, she tossed 11 no-hitters and four perfect games and topped the radar gun at 71-mph. That's the baseball equivalent of a 97-mph fastball.
Fowler lists former Dorados Alcocer and UA catcher Callista Balko (See story page 28A) as her biggest inspirations, mostly for their ability to come up big when it counts the most. Unfortunately for the freshman, the two would miss becoming battery mates by a year.
Either way, the future could be bright for Candrea and the Wildcats - and trouble for their opponents. You never know, one day, we could be saying Alicia who?