When Mike Candrea recruited Mandie Perez to come to Tucson, having her around for the 2017 season wasn’t part of the original plan.
“I feel really blessed to be part of this team because I wasn’t supposed to be,” Perez said after the Arizona Wildcats clinched the Tucson Regional on Sunday. “I’m just so fortunate that I even get to see this weekend and next weekend.”
Perez wasn’t supposed to be part of this team because she started her college career in 2013, and redshirts aren’t a typical thing seen in the sport of softball with the limited amount of scholarships available.
But a torn ACL prior to the 2014 season forced her to medically redshirt, allowing her to stay at Arizona for five years.
“It’s a blessing obviously,” she expanded on Tuesday. “I just feel really fortunate that this was kind of a blessing in disguise. I didn’t expect or assume that I was going to tear my ACL during that time and I didn’t know how great this year was going to be, so I just feel really fortunate to be here.”
“Mandie’s really come into her own,” Candrea said about having an older Perez on this particular team. “Number one, she understands her role on the team. Tremendous lead-off hitter, small zone, doesn’t chase a lot of pitches, has great knowledge of the strike zone, and she’s got great hands and eyes.”
“She’s like a gnat,” coach continued. “You can’t figure out how to get her out, and if you throw her away she can use her short game or she can also show you some power. She’s got a lot of tools as a lead-off hitter, and it’s fun to see when the maturity catches up to the physical part of the game.”
There are two other redshirt seniors on this team, Danielle O’Toole and Nancy Bowling. O’Toole is in her fifth year after sitting out a year due to the college transfer rule, while Bowling missed a large portion of the 2015 season due to a bout with anorexia, which forced her to redshirt as well.
“I got excited when I knew that Tooly would have a fifth year and that Nancy would have a fifth year,” Perez said of when she started getting excited about the prospects of the 2017 team. “I knew that we’d be a really good group to keep around, and even more so with Kati (Mauga) and Mo (Mercado) still being here too.”
“The moment I knew that the other two girls had a fifth year I was pretty excited.”
“I think she’s a little spark,” O’Toole said about playing with Perez. “She does a great job of being the lead-off, and I can’t imagine anyone else being in that spot. She always gets in there, is prepared to take a ton of pitches, prepared to let us see a ton of pitches from their pitcher, is aggressive on the base path, a great fielder...I don’t think I would want anyone else.”
Plenty of these players have long histories with each other thanks to travel ball and most of them coming from Southern California, including Mo Mercado, who has known Perez since she was 13 years old.
“Mandie’s just a great player. She’s a great lead-off for us. She’s a triple threat,” Mercado said of her teammate. “Getting to see her develop into the player she is today is definitely awesome to see just from a teammate’s perspective, but for sure when she sets the table for our lineup, that fires us up.”
Scoring the Slappers
As the team’s lead-off hitter in the first weekend of postseason play, Perez went 6-for-12 with two home runs and a team-high nine RBI.
Part of the reason she had so many runners on base to drive in was the development of a third slap-hitter at the bottom of the lineup in Eva Watson, who was playing center field in place of the injured Alyssa Palomino.
“I don’t really see it as the bottom of the lineup,” Perez said of that trio of Reyna Carranco, Ashleigh Hughes, and Watson. “I see it as a whole new one through three, which is kind of crazy because we have the true one through three, then a really good core of power hitters, then another one through three, so I just like to bounce off of them and sometimes I don’t always get on at first, but they’ve been pretty successful so it’s been pretty cool to mimic them a little bit.”
“If those three can do it, I can do it,” continued Perez. “We just kind of bounce off each other, so it’s kind of a confidence booster knowing that if I’m not able to do my job right away, there’s someone that can, and that sparks up the lineup all over again.”
One thing that also helped Perez was having Katiyana Mauga behind her in the lineup. It’s no secret that Mauga’s going to get pitched around as she closes in on the all-time NCAA home run record, but that also allows someone like Perez to get better pitches to hit.
“She probably got some better pitches,” Candrea admitted. “Kati definitely has a circle around her and she embraces that, and I think this team embraces it.”
“I think it’s great because Mandie gets on base a lot, and with Kati behind her she’s definitely going to get thrown more strikes,” Mercado continued. “For us that’s a great thing because Mandie’s a great hitter so I think it gives her an even better opportunity to get on base, and if she keeps on doing what she’s doing, it’s going to be big for us this weekend.”
“I don’t think people fear to throw to me,” Perez added. “I think I take advantage of that because I know no one’s really going to walk me, so I really take advantage of getting on base just for her. I think it’s pretty threatening to have to throw to her right after me.”
With Baylor coming to Tucson for Super Regionals this weekend, both teams will probably be relying on their speed to generate some runs. If the bottom third is able to come close to what it did this past weekend, there’s no doubt that Perez will find herself in some big situations.
And there’s probably no one in this lineup you’d rather want in that spot right now than the fifth-year senior.