Mike Candrea always says success in softball stems from the circle, so you can imagine how he felt this summer when Arizona landed Oklahoma transfer Mariah Lopez.
“Very pleased,” the UA coach said.
The ex-Sooner is expected to fill Taylor McQuillin’s shoes and form a dynamic 1-2 punch with fellow senior Alyssa Denham, giving the Wildcats all the pitching they need to return to the Women’s College World Series in 2020.
Lopez went 51-2 at Oklahoma—the best winning percentage in school history—to go along with a sparkling 1.61 career ERA, 355 strikeouts, and just 55 walks in 295 innings. Opponents only hit .159 against her in her junior season, when she posted a career-best 1.25 ERA.
“She’s got good skills,” Candrea said. “Throws extremely hard. Good late movement.”
Lopez can handle the spotlight too, a must for any ace. The right-hander won three straight PGF championships during her travel ball days and has pitched in three straight WCWS, including in 2017 when she was credited with the win in Oklahoma’s title-clinching victory over Florida.
“I think she embraces the big moment, and I think she will be a good force for us and a great addition with the rest of our pitchers,” Candrea said. “You have Denham who throws the ball extremely hard down, and you got [Lopez] to throw it extremely hard up. It’s a good combination.”
Given all the success Lopez had with the Sooners, it is fair to wonder why she’d want to walk away from them. Simple: she wanted a change, though she didn’t say much as to why.
“I have nothing but respect for Oklahoma, but I’m happy to be here with this team, and I’m excited that Coach Candrea allowed me to come and be part of this,” Lopez said. “It’s just something in my career that I felt like I wanted to do, and here I am.”
As the biggest name on the transfer market, Lopez’s options were limitless. But Arizona recruited her out of high school and Lopez was reminded of what made the program so intriguing: tradition, Candrea’s coaching pedigree, and Tucson’s proximity to her hometown of Saugus, California.
“It was a little hard to have my family just coming out (to Oklahoma) every so often, but now, especially since it’s my senior year, they’re going to be out here a lot more,” she said.
Lopez kept a close eye on the Wildcats at the WCWS last season, which Candrea believes is a big reason she decided to join them.
“I think if we weren’t there, we probably wouldn’t be having a conversation,” he said. “But she knew that this team has the capabilities and the pieces to be able to make a return trip.”
Does she ever.
Lopez played travel ball with the OC Batbusters, the same organization several UA players rose through the ranks with, including second baseman Reyna Carranco, third baseman Malia Martinez, pitcher Vanessa Foreman, center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, and catcher Dejah Mulipola (who won’t be playing for the Wildcats in 2020).
“I‘ve played with a lot of these girls before, so I know what I’m getting with all of them,” Lopez said. “Everyone’s out here to compete and work hard, and I think we’re in for something good this season.”
Being surrounded by familiar faces has aided Lopez in her transition to the UA. Getting acclimated is her No. 1 focus this autumn since she is not academically eligible to play during the fall season. (She will be good to go for the regular season, Candrea said.)
“I mean, I’m a senior so it feels kind of weird to have to be told this is what is going to happen and this and that, but they’ve been a big help,” Lopez said.
None bigger than Palomino-Cardoza, her new roommate but old friend. When the two aren’t on the softball field, they are usually causing chaos at their apartment— “she’s very loud...but I’m loud too,” Lopez laughed—or grabbing a coffee at Dutch Bros.
“People probably think she’s shy if they don’t know her off the field, but she’s funny,” Palomino-Cardoza said. “She’s a crack-up, and she’s just a cool person to talk to and hang out with.”
Palomino-Cardoza was vital in bringing Lopez to the desert. Or, more specifically, the University of Arizona. Lopez ultimately chose the UA over Arizona State.
“I honestly didn’t talk to her that much (when she was at Oklahoma), and then found out she was getting recruited here, and was all over her,” said Palomino-Cardoza, who blew up Lopez’s phone. “And that’s how it happened.”
The sales pitch?
“Coach,” Palomino-Cardoza said. “I was like, ‘you won’t get a better coaching staff than here.’ And I think she kind of knew that, but she was in between.”
Palomino-Cardoza knew what Lopez can offer, characterizing her pitching style as “fast.” Sometimes painfully so.
“My first at-bat off her, she nailed me in the back,” Palomino-Cardoza laughed. “But she’ll sling it in there and she’s good. She knows how to move the ball. I think she’ll be really great for us.”
Lopez described herself as “efficient.”
“You know, just getting my team the outs that they need,” she said. “It doesn’t really matter if it’s a strikeout, pop up, ground ball, just getting them in and out so they can score some runs for me.”
Despite posting gaudy numbers at Oklahoma, Lopez never logged more than 117 innings in a season. She was perennially the Sooners’ No. 2, sometimes even No. 3, pitcher behind All-Americans like Paige Parker and G Juarez.
That won’t be an issue at Arizona.
Lopez believes the Wildcats have all the ingredients to be a championship team—she certainly knows what one looks like—and it isn’t hard to figure out where she fits into the equation.
“She has Women’s College World Series experience and I think we need that,” Palomino-Cardoza said. “Everyone on this team besides the freshmen know what it’s like, and we can push them in the right direction, and I think having Mariah on this team to help lead us is a great addition. It’s gonna be awesome.”