Reyna Carranco has worn a mask in the batter’s box all throughout her softball career.
It hasn’t necessarily been by choice — masked helmets are required for hitters at nearly every level of softball these days.
College hitters are allowed to use cageless helmets and many do, but Carranco’s father advised her to keep the mask when she got to Arizona.
It’s a good thing he did.
On March 23 in Seattle, the left-handed-hitting second baseman took a whizzing 70 MPH rise-ball to the face from Washington right-hander Taran Alvelo.
Luckily, the pitch got wedged between the mask and brim of Carranco’s helmet, limiting the blow significantly.
Carranco suffered a concussion, a facial fracture just below her right eye, and a broken nose which required surgery, but that was minor all things considered.
Plus, the pitch didn’t even inflict much pain, Carranco said, only pressure.
“I didn’t think it hit me like that,” she recalled. “I just saw the blood and I was more focused on that than the pain. I was scared. I didn’t know what was wrong.”
Someone, Carranco doesn’t remember who, declared that she had a broken nose, so she was immediately taken to a local hospital. There, Carranco peered into a mirror and finally realized the extent of the injury.
“That’s my first big injury in a while,” she said.
Carranco underwent surgery less than a week later, which forced her to watch a home series against Cal from the dugout.
She enjoyed being back with her team, but was longing to return to the diamond.
But first Carranco had to clear concussion protocol. Then she would have to get used to staring down pitches in the batter’s box again.
“Let’s face it,” Arizona coach Mike Candrea said while Carranco was sidelined, “you get hit by a 70-mile an-hour pitch, it’s going to take a little while to get her comfortable and back.”
It took former Wildcat Stacie Chambers a whole year to return to form after she foul-tipped a pitch off her face, Candrea said, but he believed Carranco would bounce back quickly because she’s a “flatliner.”
“I don’t get too hyped or too low,” Carranco explained.
Candrea was right. Carranco returned to the lineup last Friday at Oregon, roughly a week after surgery.
The Wildcats struggled mightily against the Ducks’ dominant pitching staff — they were swept and only scored two runs in the three-game series — but Carranco was a bright spot.
She knocked two hits, including a gap-splitting double.
“I thought she did a great job,” Candrea said. “I asked her ‘Reyna, are you ready?’ and ‘I’m not going to push you. But I want you to be the one to tell me that you’re ready to play’ and she said ‘I’m ready to play’.”
Carranco admitted she might have been a little nervous in her first at-bat, but after that she settled in.
“I feel like it was just a freak accident so I’m not really worried about it,” she said.
Carranco is excited to be back, and Arizona is excited to have her back.
She is a .367 hitter and a reliable defender, and the Wildcats (27-9, 6-6 Pac-12) are just 3-6 in their last nine games as they enter this weekend’s crucial home series against No. 4 UCLA.
“I think we just need to keep those games in the past, just move forward because we know what we need to fix,” she said.
Carranco’s injury is in the past, too. She said she isn’t in any pain and that “everything feels normal.”
Really, the only remnant of that fateful night in Washington is the mask she has to wear while playing the field.
That one, she plans to shed.
“I don’t really like it, but I think it’ll come off soon,” Carranco said. “I think I only have to wear it two more weeks.”