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Softballs are not so soft anymore. Nor, as it turns out, are
softball players. ``I was up to bat in an exhibition game last
summer, and the pitcher hit me,'' says Amy Chellevold, the
University of Arizona's leadoff hitter. ``The ball -- a softball!
-- fractured my left ulna, and a surgeon had to insert a titanium
plate in my forearm.''

A titanium bat is one thing, but a titanium arm? Might that
explain Chellevold's nearly completed assault on college
softball's career-hits record? At week's end she had 336 hits and
needed only 16 more in the Wildcats' remaining 18 regular-season
games to break the career mark of 351, set by South Carolina's
Tiff Tootle from 1990 to '93. With 77 hits this season, she also
led Arizona with a .453 average.

``My bionic arm?'' says Chellevold, a first baseman from Thousand
Oaks, Calif., with a laugh. ``O.K., then how do you explain what
Laura has done?''

Laura is shortstop Laura Espinoza, the Wildcats' other senior, who
bats cleanup and whose arms are element free. However, her feats
remind folks in Tucson, where many are old enough to remember him,
of Babe Ruth. Espinoza's 74 career home runs dwarf the previous
NCAA record of 34 set by Liz Mizera of Texas A&M between 1985 and
'88. Call Espinoza the Sultana of Swat. Through Sunday she had 26
homers this season, and her .436 average made her second on the
team in hitting.

So what gives? ``Not the ball anymore,'' says Arizona coach Mike
Candrea. In 1987 the NCAA moved the mound three feet farther from
the plate (to 43 feet) to give hitters more time to react to
pitches, and in 1992 it switched from a cork-and-yarn ball to a
rock-hard, solid polyurethane sphere. ``The ball just jumps off
the bat now,'' says Candrea. ``I don't know why we still use the
word soft.''

Thanks primarily to the hitting of Chellevold and Espinoza, the
Wildcats, who were 43-4 at week's end and ranked second in the
nation, are swinging for a third straight NCAA championship. Only
top-ranked UCLA, which was 31-2, would seem to stand in their

Chellevold's achievements are all the more remarkable because she
originally enrolled at UC Santa Barbara on a volleyball
scholarship. ``I was too short to be a hitter in volleyball, so I
played setter,'' says Chellevold, who has given up volleyball.
``Now what have I become? A hitter.''

Unlike Espinoza, who's from Wilmington, Calif., Chellevold had to
relearn how to hit upon transferring to Arizona before the start
of the 1992 season. ``I naturally hit righthanded,'' says
Chellevold. ``But the coaches took one look at my speed and
decided I'd be a slap hitter. They never let me bat righty

``Eighty percent of Amy's at bats are either slaps or bunts,''
says assistant coach Larry Ray, college softball's slap-happy
guru. ``She has come close to perfecting the art of the short

Just as Espinoza has mastered the craft of the long ball. Which
leaves us with one question: Would Chellevold also hold the NCAA
career mark for runs scored (226) if she did not bat three spots
in front of Espinoza, who also happens to be the game's alltime
RBI leader (279)? ``Probably not,'' says Espinoza. ``And neither
of us would have two NCAA championships.''

-- John Walters

COLOR PHOTO:BRAD MANGIN (2) The Arizona first baseman is sure afield and the best at getting a hit. [Amy Chellevold catching grounder]

COLOR PHOTO:BRAD MANGIN (2)The Arizona shortstop is the Sultana of Swat of college softball. [Laura Espinoza turning to run to first base after hitting theball]