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NCAA Softball: Arizona overcomes obstacles all season to arrive in the postseason

ncaa-softball-arizona-overcomes-obstacles-all-season-arrive-postseason-skaggs-meono-palacios-scupin Arizona Athletics

The Arizona Wildcats have a new season just like every team selected for postseason play. Now, it’s time to see what they can do with it.

“Right now we’re just starting 0-0,” said catcher Sharlize Palacios. “It’s a brand new season. So I think that’s going to be really beneficial to us where we can go in thinking it’s a clean slate to know how you fill in.”

It starts with supporting each other, something the Wildcats have a lot of experience with after a year of adversity. It’s been a year of injuries, uneven performances, and personal tragedies.

The difficulties didn’t stop coming even as the season was winding down. One of the biggest obstacles a family can deal with appeared in the path of starting second base Allie Skaggs just before the end of the regular season.

The Monday before Arizona was scheduled to face Stanford in its final regular-season series, Skaggs learned that her family had suffered a huge loss with the death of her uncle Sheldon Hoskinson. It was another opportunity to learn that it’s important to lean on others during difficult times and that what happens off the field is more important than what happens on it.

“So I found out Monday night that one of my uncles had passed,” Skaggs said. “Didn’t come to practice Tuesday. Got through the rest of the week. It was tough, but I think I’m looking at it. I’m taking the positives…I had so much family that I hadn’t seen in so long come out…I saw so many people that were here to support my family. I think that’s what I took from it. It was tough. It was really hard. I mean, I hate it for my family. It just hurts seeing people that you love hurting.”

Just as they had rallied around each other for more mundane problems like hitting slumps and injuries, the team came together for Skaggs, who returned to the group quickly.

“I’m glad I was here,” she said. “It was good to be around my teammates.”

Skaggs described head coach Caitlin Lowe as “motherly.” For Lowe, it was another time she needed to address the person rather than the softball player.

“She took Tuesday off and was able to process some feelings and let herself feel low, but also let herself be surrounded by the team,” Lowe said. “And she let herself smile at practice and things that are just important...I think building them up to be their strongest, most confident selves and also take care of them at their lowest points is what’s going to help them succeed as people and that translates to (softball performance).”

The obstacle may have been more tragic for Skaggs and her family, but the support offered by teammates and coaches is what helped them get through less severe adversity all season and finally arrive in the postseason.

Starting centerfielder Janelle Meoño missed 26 of the team’s 53 games with a stress fracture in her foot. While Jasmine Perezchica performed very well at the top of the Wildcats’ order, it was a huge hole to fill. Meoño was last year’s Pac-12 batting champion with a .439 average.

Meoño is feeling strong again, giving the Wildcats bookend leadoff hitters with Meoño at the top and Perezchica in the nine hole.

“The cast helps,” Meoño said. “I feel better than I have. I feel 100 percent.”

The rebound of some of Arizona’s power hitters has also helped the team on the field. Palacios had a difficult month of March in the batter’s box, but she bounced back to end the season with a .333 batting average and 17 home runs.

More recently, the team has seen the recovery of the bat of first base Carlie Scupin. Scupin is one of Arizona’s most potent offensive weapons when she’s on. For most of her career, she has been on, but this year’s Pac-12 season was different.

Scupin’s average in Pac-12 play dropped to a low point of .167. She raised that to .217 with a 5-of-9 weekend to end the regular season. Her overall average ended at .368 and she launched 17 home runs to tie Palacios for second on the team.

“I think everyone’s kind of starting to click on all cylinders,” Palacios. “You saw Scup doing really well. (Sophia Carroll) came up really big in our first game against Stanford. And Janelle and Jaz do a really good job of setting everyone up and kind of getting our momentum going. It’s like the first punch of the game and it’s really intimidating when they get on.”

Now it’s time to see if they can build on that in the postseason.

“We’ve had some dips this year,” Lowe said. “And really, the way you look at it, it can make us stronger or it can make us doubt. I think right now it’s making us stronger.”

The Wildcats will see if that strength can lift them to a victory over Illinois to start postseason play on Friday, May 20 at 1:30 p.m. MST on ESPN+.

UPDATE at 10:33 a.m. MST on May 19: Added tweet from Allie Skaggs and the name of her uncle.