By now the news isn’t quite so new. Arizona softball will be without decorated senior catcher Dejah Mulipola for the season as she pursues her Olympic dreams in Tokyo.
Who steps into the void on a team primed to return to the Women’s College World Series in 2020? Sophomore Izzy Pacho and freshman Sharlize Palacios both hope to be the answer to that question.
Arizona fans got a glimpse of the team’s two options as fall ball kicked off on Wednesday night with a 22-0 victory over Chandler-Gilbert Community College. Pacho started the game, but Palacios also saw time behind the plate and had a 2-for-3 night in the batter’s box.
“Palacios I really liked,” said coach Mike Candrea. “Very strong arm, very solid player. She had some good at-bats and squared some balls up.”
Palacios was rated as the No. 38 prospect in the country by Extra Inning Softball after a senior season that left her with the home run record for Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, California. Last year, she hit .566 with 11 home runs with a 1.152 slugging percentage.
Pacho is the hometown girl living her dream at the UA. As a senior at Ironwood Ridge, the Tucson native hit .653 and slugged 1.094 while getting on base at a .750 clip.
“It’s awesome,” Pacho said about playing for the hometown Wildcats, “especially giving back to the community. And seeing all the fans out here when I get up to the plate and the whole crowd is cheering. It’s awesome. I love it here.”
Pacho has been attending Arizona sporting events for most of her life, and is still awed that she gets to be a part of it.
“Every day,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m here.’ It kind of hits me every once in a while, but definitely so grateful to be here.”
Things weren’t quite as smooth when she hit the field for her dream school last year, though. As a freshman, she appeared in 24 games while getting nine starts, but she had difficulty adapting to the college game, as her .195 batting average indicates.
As Palacios will undoubtedly learn, as well, it’s a completely different world compared to high school and travel ball. Pacho certainly got the message.
“The game’s faster,” she said. “In club ball, it was more of you had this big string. You could fail a million times and you’d still be in there. Where here, you fail once and you’re out. And that’s the fun in it is it’s so competitive and you’re surrounded by so many girls that are as good or better than you.”
Candrea is clear about the things Pacho needs to do to improve as a hitter at this level.
“Well, Izzy needs to quit spinning at the plate,” he said. “I think she just needs to let her hands work. She does a great job in BP driving the ball to the opposite field. And I thought tonight when they brought in that second pitcher, that was a challenge for us because she was little slower and you saw a few of our hitters trying to pull the ball and can’t do that.
“But Izzy’s a hard worker and I love the kid. I mean, she plays the game with great passion and she’s got good skills. I think she is gonna be a good hitter before it’s over. It’s just a matter of getting that database and continue to understand that you don’t have to master all the ballpark all the time. Sometimes you have to shorten your swing up a little bit and let the pitcher supply the power. And I think that’s probably the biggest thing with all of our young kids is they just overswing.”
Pacho said catcher is where she is most comfortable, despite being listed as both a catcher and infielder. She caught for eight years in travel ball and four years at Ironwood Ridge.
That isn’t to say that she doesn’t have things she needs to improve. Mulipola has helped her improve some of the skills she needs.
“Last year, we worked a lot with Alyssa (Denham) because I struggled with the drop ball,” Pacho said. “But (Mulipola) would just like technique-wise, like get lower, or when we’re giving signs, just some little things, really.”
Regardless of which of the young catchers gets most of the innings while she’s gone, Mulipola has confidence that one or both of them will thrive, especially with the support of the veterans.
“Everyone’s here for a reason,” she said. “So I know that the catchers here will do great. And we have a great junior class, who’s now a senior class. So, they’re in good hands right now.”