Elite pitching stifled Arizona softball in 2018 and allowed schools like UCLA, ASU, Washington and Oregon to separate themselves from the rest of the Pac-12.
But the Wildcats may be able to bridge the gap in 2019, thanks to some recent news.
ASU left-hander Giselle “G” Juarez announced Tuesday that she is transferring. Juarez was a first team All-American last season, posting a 1.22 ERA across 224.1 innings, fanning 305 batters.
Riding Juarez’s arm, ASU finished third in the Pac-12 and reached the Women’s College World Series for the first time since 2013. She was 26-6.
Juarez is likely irreplaceable for the Sun Devils, who also lost several other players to transfer, including infielder Danielle Gibson, a second-team All-Pac-12 performer.
And Juarez is the second elite pitcher to transfer from a Pac-12 school this offseason.
Oregon junior Miranda Elish announced her decision to transfer in early October. Soon after, she joined former Oregon coach Mike White at Texas. (White accepted the Texas job after Oregon was eliminated from the Women’s College World Series.)
Elish, a second-team All-American, was 25-2 with a 1.20 ERA last season, finishing second in the Pac-12 in ERA. In two appearances against Arizona, she had 15 strikeouts and allowed just three hits. Oregon, which also featured Megan Kleist (21-7, 1.31 ERA), won the Pac-12 for the fifth time in six years.
Arizona’s pitching was solid in 2018, just not quite as elite as the four aforementioned schools.
Ace Taylor McQuillin was 28-12 with a 1.68 ERA. No. 2 starter Alyssa Denham went 11-3 with a 1.85 ERA, striking out 72 batters in 106 innings after transferring in from Louisiana-Lafayette.
But if that duo can build on its 2018 numbers, Arizona could emerge with a top-three pitching staff in the conference.
There is also freshman phenom Marissa Schuld, who is the wild card. The Phoenix native is a two-time Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year and was named the 2018 FloSoftball High School Player of the Year.
She led Pinnacle High School to a 6A state championship as a senior, posting an 11-1 record with a 0.74 ERA and 151 strikeouts in just 76 innings. In fall ball, she pitched nine innings, racking up 16 strikeouts and allowing just one hit.
Softball revolves around pitching in conference play and the postseason, as evidenced by Arizona’s 2-12 record against UCLA, Oregon, Washington, and ASU last year.
Yes, UCLA still has Rachel Garcia, Oregon still has Kleist, and Washington returns the ferocious duo of Taran Alvelo and Gabbie Plain, but the departures of Juarez and Elish undoubtedly put Arizona in much better shape to win the Pac-12.