Usually, Mo Mercado is reeling in every ground ball in her direction, but this week she reeled in every accolade, too.
The Arizona Wildcats shortstop was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week, plus earned national player of the week honors from the NFCA, USA Softball, College Sports Madness and DI Fast Pitch News after a stellar weekend in Palm Springs.
“I was kinda caught off guard at first,” Mercado said before practice on Wednesday. “I know I did well, but I wasn’t really thinking about my stats during the week. So when I actually saw my numbers written down I was like ‘wow, you actually did really well.”
Even that is an understatement.
In five games in the Mary Nutter Classic, Mercado went 11-for-13 at the plate with 11 RBIs, three doubles, six runs scored and a homer.
“That was a hell of a weekend,” head coach Mike Candrea said. “I can go back 32 years and I can’t remember a lot of weekends that were any better than what she did as far as production offensively.”
Mercado is a career .359 hitter, but the senior is hitting .488 this season with a career-high slugging percentage of .698.
“I’ve changed my preparation a little bit,” Mercado said. “I’ve worked on my tilt on my swing, changed a few drills, but nothing super dramatic.”
The shortstop has built a reputation for being a player who often swings early in counts and can get caught chasing pitches out of the zone, but Mercado said she has worked to become more patient at the plate.
“That was a big goal for me in the fall during all our scrimmages,” she said. “I know that’s a big way that I’m perceived in the Pac-12, so for sure it’s something that I’m working on.”
The improvement has been evident.
“Aggressive early in counts. Panic when she’s behind in the count,” Candrea described how Mercado was in the past. “I don’t see that right now. I see a kid that’s pretty calm, that’s trusting her approach, and trusting her plan and being able to execute it and that’s cool to see.”
Candrea credits that to Mercado being more mature, and said he is most proud of the shortstop’s mindset.
“She is playing the game loose. She’s playing the game with a good plan. And I think the thing that I like about her right now is she’s taking care of the things outside of the mechanics of the game,” he said. “Because that’s when you can get swallowed up in this game. When you start thinking about how you do things, the game gets really quick on you.
“I think Mo has shown a lot of maturity right now to realize that it’s a lot more than that. I always tell [our players] that it’s the six inches between your ears that’s the most important thing in playing this game and I think she realized this weekend that if she can let the game come to her and not force things, good things will happen.”
That doesn’t mean Mercado will completely abandon her notoriously opportunistic approach at the plate, though.
“If I get a good pitch,” she said, “I’m probably going to be aggressive still.”
O’Toole wins Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week
Mercado was not the only Wildcat taking home an award this week. Wildcats’ ace Danielle O’Toole joined the party, being named the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week.
The redshirt senior tossed 16 innings in the Mary Nutter Classic, allowing just one earned run and seven hits while striking out 23 batters.
It is the first time O’Toole has earned the honor this season, but she won it four times last season.
“It’s cool. I like it,” the left-hander said of the honor. “I don’t think it’s something you strive for. I don’t go out there and pitch and be like ‘I want to go out there and be Pac-12 pitcher of the week’. I want to win games and if winning games gives me that, cool.”
O’Toole is second in the nation in wins (8), second in ERA among pitchers that have thrown 50-plus innings (0.39), and 16th in strikeouts (62).
She was tagged with her first loss of the season Saturday when the Wildcats fell 1-0 to the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles, but as Candrea said Wednesday, if there was ever such a thing as a “good loss”, that would be it.
“I think there’s a good competitive nature that’s going on right now,” O’Toole said. “After the loss I don’t think I’ve felt that way in a while about a team. I think we looked super good. I’m not even concerned one bit about it. I think we have some things to work on, but I think other than that we’re good to go.”
The sixth-ranked Wildcats sit at 15-1 after going 4-1 in the Mary Nutter Classic.
McQuillin is “day-to-day”
Arizona was without its No. 2 pitcher in Palm Springs as Taylor McQuillin sat out with arm soreness.
The sophomore left-hander was throwing during Wednesday’s practice, however, and Candrea said she is “day-to-day.”
With McQuillin sidelined, redshirt senior Nancy Bowling took over as the team’s No. 2 pitcher and she pitched 11 innings in Palm Springs, allowing five runs.
Candrea mentioned that Bowling wasn’t feeling well in her last appearance of the tournament, when she allowed one run in three innings in the win over LIU Brooklyn.
“She did a great job. I can’t say enough about Nancy,” Candrea said of the right-hander. “She wasn’t feeling good the last game that she threw. She gave us three really good innings but was pretty sick, but that’s the type of player she is.”
Bowling’s ability to step in for McQuillin and have success is something Candrea hopes can be a microcosm of his team.
“What you hope your team can do is someone can step up when needed and I think Nancy will be in the mix throughout this year,” Candrea said. “I think everyone on this team, what we feel good about is that everyone can contribute. We talked about that and I thought this weekend was a great example about that because a couple games we basically used every kid on the bench and they came through and had some really good at-bats, which tells me that they’re prepared and ready to help this team do what it needs to be successful.
“No complaints on this end.”
Bowling has a 2.33 ERA in 23 innings of work this season.
The Wildcats return to action Friday when they will host the Texas Longhorns (11-5) at Hillenbrand Stadium for a three-game series that runs through Sunday.
“I think this weekend coming up against Texas will be a three-games series that will have some excitement each and every night,” Candrea said. “Two very good teams and those are the types of games that we have to learn how to win. These are the types of games that we need to learn how to win.”
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