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5 takeaways from Arizona softball’s opening weekend in Tampa

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

The Arizona Wildcats wrapped up the first weekend of their season on Sunday, leaving the USF Opening Weekend Invitational with a 3-2 record.

No. 7 Arizona beat No. 19 Michigan, USF, and Illinois State, but fell to No. 5 Florida and NC State in Tampa.

Recaps of all five games can be found in our softball section, and here are five takeaways from this weekend’s action, which was a solid early-season test for the Wildcats.

The offense could be all-or-nothing again

Arizona had a boom-or-bust offense last year. The Wildcats were either blasting the ball out of the ballpark or struggling to manufacture runs with the short game.

The same was true in Tampa where 16 of Arizona’s 18 runs came via the long ball. The Wildcats came up empty-handed in several scoring opportunities, batting .212 with runners in scoring position.

If you do not include the game against cupcake Illinois State, the Wildcats hit .154 with runners in scoring position. And one of the two runs they did drive in with a non-homer was the product of a double play ball.

That has to be frustrating for UA coaches and players. By all accounts the Wildcats had been working hard in the preseason to become a better situational hitting team, but the fruits of their labor have yet to show up.

The bottom of the order is a work in progress

Maybe the most surprising thing to me is who the Wildcats started in their opener, going with Hillary Edior (a former catcher) in right field, Izzy Pacho (a freshman) at designated player and Ivy Davis (who only played DP last season) in left.

Jenna Kean and Carli Campbell, who started a bulk of the time in the corner outfield last season, didn’t play much in Tampa, combining for five at-bats.

But you can expect Mike Candrea to tinker with this part of the order because, well, it did not have much success in the opening weekend.

Davis went 2 for 7, Pacho went 0 for 8 and Edior went 1 for 11. Then again, the bench went 1 for 16, with Tamara Statman accounting for the lone hit, so it’s not like there are any obvious fixes.

The good news is the top of the order absolutely crushed the ball and should all season.

Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza is better than ever

Speaking of the top of the order, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza was outstanding in Tampa, batting .500 with half of her eight hits leaving the yard. What is crazier is that three of Palomino-Cardoza’s four homers were leadoff homers.

Perhaps even more important is that she started every game in center field, a great sign for her health. Remember, she tore her ACL in 2016 and 2017, prompting her to move to first base in 2018.

There were some concerns about moving her back to the outfield and the increased strain that could have on her knees, but so far so good.

Pierce is still finding her footing

What allowed Palomino-Cardoza to move back to center was Arizona adding Rylee Pierce from Missouri in the offseason.

The former Tiger was a second-team All-SEC performer last season, so she was penciled in as Arizona’s starting first baseman from the day she committed to the UA.

However, her transition has been rocky so far. The senior went 0 for 11 with four strikeouts in Tampa. She also came up empty a few times with runners in scoring position.

Pierce’s track record suggests there is no reason to be concerned, but Arizona didn’t have the best success with transfer position players last year, either. Aleah Craighton, a two-time All-American outfielder at Louisiana-Lafayette, saw a big dip in her production in her lone season at the UA.

Does that have anything to do with Pierce? Not really, but it seems noteworthy. One problem Craighton encountered is her swing mechanics were much different than those Arizona teaches, which made it hard for the UA coaching staff to make corrections when she was slumping.

Pitching pecking order is clearer

Candrea hoped to use all six Arizona pitchers in Tampa, but that was always an unrealistic goal since four of the five games were against quality opponents.

In the end, Arizona used three pitchers — Taylor McQuillin, Alyssa Denham, and Hanah Bowen. McQuillin and Denham ate up all the innings against the good teams as expected, while Bowen pitched a complete game against Illinois State.

Arizona’s two freshman arms, Marissa Schuld and Vanessa Foreman, and senior Gina Snyder did not see any time in the circle (though Schuld did get an at-bat against ISU.)

That gives us a general idea of what the pecking order is right now, but this upcoming week is when Arizona can do a little more experimenting and get a better feel for what it has. The Wildcats host New Mexico (twice), South Florida, Illinois-Chicago, Cal State Fullerton, and No. 9 Alabama in the Hillenbrand Invitational, a lighter slate than the one they faced in Tampa, though still a good one.

As far as the pitching’s effectiveness, it was good but not great in Florida, where the Wildcats compiled a 2.26 ERA, a few ticks below the 1.94 ERA they posted last season.

McQuillin was not her usual dominant self, permitting six runs — including three homers — across 15 innings. Arizona needs her to establish herself as an elite pitcher in the Pac-12 this season, and while it was not her best weekend, one subpar stretch won’t derail those aspirations.