Only six games and the postseason are left on Arizona’s schedule, but Ashleigh Hughes believes there’s enough time for her to return from a broken left hand.
Actually, she knows there’s enough time.
“No,” Hughes said when asked if she could miss the rest of the season. “Absolutely not.”
The senior centerfielder broke the metacarpal bone in her middle finger on April 22 when she slid head first into second base, colliding with an ASU infielder.
“I hit her foot and my body kept going and she didn’t,” Hughes recalled. “So it jammed it.”
Hughes writhed in pain after the injury occurred and was removed from the game a half-inning later. She knew it would be a while before she’d play again.
“I just knew something wasn’t right and it didn’t feel right,” she said. “That morning when I got my X-rays I couldn’t sleep because I knew that something was off.”
Hughes’ injury didn’t require surgery, but her left arm has been in a sling ever since. She has missed the last four games and won’t play this weekend when Arizona hosts Grand Canyon in its final home series of the regular season.
“Yeah it sucks, but it is what it is,” she said. “I’m not going to cry about it. ...All I can do is be a cheerleader and be everything they need me to.”
Arizona CF Ashleigh Hughes provides an update on her broken hand pic.twitter.com/NH6JH1UJ2Y— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) May 3, 2018
The Wildcats (35-13, 11-10 Pac-12) have won six straight, but Hughes’ absence weakens them on the bases, in the field, and at the plate.
She was hitting .285/.318/.439 with a team-high 14 stolen bases before her injury. Hughes displayed improved power, too, launching a career-high five homers in the leadoff spot.
“She was not a great hitter and relied on her speed, but has worked really hard with her swing, and she’s finally starting to understand working the count, getting good pitches, not trying to do too much, keeping her bat head through the zone as long as she can and she’s even started to choke up a lot which has given her a lot more bat control,” Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said.
“And I’ve been really, really impressed with what she’s done.”
Freshman Jenna Kean has claimed Hughes’ spot atop the lineup, and the speedy outfielder has shown a knack for getting on base, drawing four walks and getting three hits in the last four games.
“She got the job done and she’s doing well,” Hughes said.
While Hughes is determined to play again this season, she admitted she has no target date in mind.
“Whenever it feels better is when I’m going to go,” she said before Thursday’s practice. “It does not feel better yet, so I’m not going yet. That’s my timetable.”
Sunday is Senior Night for the Wildcats, which means Hughes won’t get to suit up for what could be her final home game.
But she’s still looking forward to “seeing my team crush GCU” and the day she gets to rejoin them on the field, whenever that will be.
“I’m not done yet,” she said. “So don’t count me out.”
Palomino practices Thursday, but her status for GCU is unclear
First baseman Alyssa Palomino practiced Thursday, which is a good sign for her and the Wildcats’ offense.
The redshirt sophomore missed Sunday’s series-finale against Oregon State with a left knee strain, had a heavy brace on her leg, and was not in uniform.
Candrea said Palomino was held out for “precautionary measures” after she felt some discomfort in her knee Saturday.
Palomino has suffered two ACL tears at Arizona — one forced her to miss the postseason last year — so it makes sense why the team would be extra careful with her.
But it’s not clear if she will play this weekend vs. GCU.
“We’ll see,” Candrea said.
Palomino is hitting .382/.469/.765 with 15 homers this season, tied with UA shortstop Jessie Harper for the Pac-12 lead.
Last year, Arizona’s senior class had eight members, making it the largest since 2001. This year’s has three — Hughes, backup catcher Robyn Porter, and outfielder Aleah Craighton.
They will be honored after Sunday’s series-finale vs. GCU.
Here’s what Candrea had to say about them:
“It’s been a good class. It’s a class that I think has really worked hard to develop as players, but also to develop into a leadership role. I think Robyn has been one of those kids that you just admire everyday because she comes in and works her tail off and is always prepared if her name’s called. That’s what you want in role players. And I just hold her on a pedestal because I think she really is the model. I told her I’d probably end up putting a quote of hers on our wall because I think she’s played the game very selfless, has worked hard every day, and I couldn’t ask for more.
“I think Ashleigh Hughes has come in and developed nicely as an athlete and as a person. So I’m proud of who she is right now and I know she wants to go into the police force and that’ll be a great challenge for her. She’s grown up a lot and has brought a lot more stability to her game this year.
“And Aleah Craighton, what can you say? She comes into a program in January and hit the ground running and has been a positive influence each and everyday. She’s gone through some struggles, but she’s handled it very, very well and she’s playing her best softball. So we’re very, very proud and pleased to have her from [Louisiana-Lafayette]. I think she’s still got plenty of softball left in her.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire