Marissa Schuld was not a bubbly person when she played for the Wildcats, at least not with the media. She wasn’t one of those players who smiled all the time or laughed with reporters. On Sunday afternoon, back in Hillenbrand Stadium for the first time since transferring to ASU, there was a lot for Schuld to smile about.
Schuld threw a five-inning perfect game against Arizona as the Sun Devils closed out the season sweep with an 8-0 victory. The Wildcats were also no-hit by Holly Azevedo at UCLA last week.
Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe felt that the problem was more about what Arizona didn’t do than what Schuld did.
“I saw it in our hitters from the get-go,” Lowe said. “I just thought that we didn’t come with our stuff today. I don’t think honestly it could have mattered who was on the mound. I think we were grinding ourselves at the plate and just putting too much pressure on ourselves. I don’t think it would have mattered if we were throwing BP today. We were just not in the right place mentally.”
That showed both on the field and after the game. No Arizona players were made available to the media, but Lowe said that despite their frustrations, there are still things to look forward to.
“The silver lining is we have games right now and we have games to turn it around,” Lowe said. “And I think that’s the biggest thing...we have an opportunity, and you can’t always say that. No, if this was the end of the year, that would have been an opportunity. But right now we have games to turn things around. We’ve seen some of the best pitchers in the Pac-12. We’ve seen some of the best hitting in the Pac-12. We know what to expect. And now it’s a matter of turning our mindset around because we have the physical tools. I think that’s where it’s painful. Because if we didn’t have the physical tools, it would just be like, ‘okay, we’re not talented enough.’ That we are, we have the physical tools and it’s all about between the ears right now and that’s the toughest part of the game, unfortunately, but it’s also an opportunity to get on the right track.”
To get on the right track, Arizona needs to find its way offensively. The Wildcats have scored just two runs since the third inning of the Mar. 13 game against Marist and are now on a six-game losing streak. They have only had one losing streak of six games in school history. That ran from April 6 through April 15, 2018, when Arizona played three games at Oregon and hosted UCLA for three games.
Arizona has used a number of lineups since it faced Marist in mid-March. Most of those lineups have struggled.
With Janelle Meoño out with a stress fracture, Jasmine Perezchica has moved to lead-off hitter. Perezchica is hitting well. Despite getting just two hits this week against ASU and two hits last week against UCLA, she is still hitting .432, but the one-two punch that used to come at the top of the order is gone.
This weekend, Sharlize Palacios was in the two-hole. She doesn’t have a hit since the March 13 game against Marist, but her struggles go back further than that. Palacios’ batting average has been in free fall since Feb. 25, the last time it sat at .300. It now sits at .179. She regularly gets under the ball and pops it up for an easy out.
“I don’t think she’s trying to hit home runs,” Lowe said. “I think she’s trying to make hard contact but she’s not giving herself the credit. I think she’s one of the best hitters in college softball, and I think she needs to understand that she is that person and sometimes she can take pitchers' pitches to get to her pitches. We’re not working counts in our favor that way.”
Lowe regularly talks about how the team needs to get back to being themselves. What does that mean? Who are they?
“If you watched us practice in the fall, it was staying loose, knowing that we could trust in our abilities, and I just don’t think we’re doing that right now,” Lowe said. “We’re putting so much pressure on ourselves to feel great. When this game hands you something like not feeling good, it’s just important to grind through it and figure out a way to do the small things, and I just think we’re making it too big.”
Lowe and her team are not giving up. Most of them walked this path just last year. They ended it at the Women’s College World Series where no one thought they would be when things got started early in the season.
“We went through our bumps last year to make us into the team that we were at the end of the year,” Lowe said. “And I think that is the perspective that we all need right now. What team are we building towards? Not to what team and what feeling we have right now, but how is this going to fuel our fire to get us to where we need to be because right now it feels terrible, and they feel terrible, but we can just continue to feel terrible, or use it as fire. And that’s the thing, this will fuel me for the rest of my life.”