By Marty Gitlin
To a Northern California girl who has spent the last few years striking out frustrated, overmatched hitters at the University of Arizona, the city of Akron might seem quite far away.
But a couple phone calls shortened the distance emotionally and mentally for Alicia Hollowell. They sweetened her already pleasant feelings about pitching professionally for the Racers.
One of the most dominant pitchers in college softball history was obtained by the 2005 National Pro Fastpitch champions after she was contacted by Racers third baseman and two-time Olympic gold medalist Crystl Bustos, as well as Jenny Topping, the Racers former talented catcher.
If Hollowell harbored any doubts, they were erased during those conversations.
They both said Akron was a great place to play, says Hollowell. I was never worried about going someplace new, but after talking to them and to other people, I figured Akron would be a better route for me. Plus when I spoke with (Racers GM) Joey Arrietta, she was so up-front and honest about everything. I really liked that.
The feeling is mutual. But then, how could one not be excited about the prospect of Hollowell gracing the circle for the Racers? Her mind-boggling achievements for the Wildcats included 144 victories and 1,768 strikeouts, both of which rank third all-time in NCAA history. She recorded microscopic earned run averages between 0.79 and 0.94 in all four seasons and led Arizona to the national championship in 2006.
Adding to the attraction is that Hollowell will be paired with ace Radara McHugh, who outdueled Chicago Bandits star Jenny Finch to clinch the 2005 title. New field manager Shonda Stanton is practically turning cartwheels over the idea of sending those two to the circle on successive nights.
Alicia and Radara give us one of the best 1-2 punches in the league, Stanton says. Mention the name Alicia Hollowell in Arizona and the first word that comes to your mind is winner. Couple her with Radara and the other pitchers we have and theres no reason our pitching shouldnt keep us in every game.
Hollowell has been doing more than keeping her teams in the game. She celebrated her first experience at the tender age of 12, when pitching coach Ron Clarke asked her to pitch in an 18-and-under American Softball Association tournament. She shut down the far more seasoned players, winning every game she pitched.
By that time she had already developed a repertoire others her age could only dream about. Hollowell was firing dropballs, riseballs and a tantalizing changeup to go along with a devastating fastball.
But while others who had experienced tremendous success were anticipating the ego gratification of fielding college scholarship offers, Hollowell didnt give it a second thought until late in her brilliant career at Fairfield High School in Northern California.
I just played for the love of the game, she says. People talked to me about this or that scholarship at this or that school and I didnt know anything about it. I didnt know anything about the programs I was being recruited by. I had no idea. I did know that I wanted to go out and win. And when I took a recruiting trip to Arizona, I realized that was where I wanted to be.
Arrietta believes strongly that similar feelings will be strengthened after she arrives in Akron. A recent conversation with Hollowells agent confirmed that notion.
He asked How do you get people to come to Akron and stay there? Arrietta reports. He said Akron isnt like Boston or Chicago or New York. I told him that I often face that issue, but we have great fans that understand the game and we have a lot of commitment from the players.
Were always straightforward with the players here. I think they know theyre going to get a fair deal and that Im going to take care of them. If you do that, you get the kind of loyalty that brings players back to Akron year after year.
Arrietta is optimistic the same will hold true with Hollowell. But a full 2007 season with Akron remains speculative. Hollowell will try out for the United States National Team in early June. If she is selected, she will pitch for the Racers both early and late in the year and with the U.S. team for about six weeks in-between.
One thing is certain, however. Alicia Hollowell is one of the most outstanding pitchers in the history of college softball, and thanks in part to Bustos and Topping, shes heading to Akron to play for the Racers this summer.
Hollowell eclipsed Jenny Finchs career strikeout record (1,028) at the University of Arizona in her junior season making her the Wildcats all-time leader with 1,768 strikeouts.
In the 2006 NCAA Womens College World Series, Hollowell pitched six complete games logging 43 innings pitched. She struck out 64 and allowed only two earned runs, all of which are WCWS records.