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What to watch for when Arizona softball hosts Hillenbrand Invitational

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

The Arizona Wildcats completed their opening weekend in Florida with a 3-2 record, with a loss to a subpar NC State team in the final game, serving a sour way to end the trip.

However, the ‘Cats play their first game in renovated Rita Hillenbrand Stadium on Thursday, and here is a preview heading into the Hillenbrand Invitational, which will pit UA against New Mexico, USF, Illinois-Chicago, No. 9 Alabama and Cal State Fullerton.

1. Hail to the home run queen

Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza hit four home runs over the weekend as the leadoff hitter, which has her leading the conference. She finished the weekend hitting .500.

She hit from the lead-off spot in 14 games last season and 21 times from three-spot. Wherever she is in the lineup, though, the regaining Pac-12 home run leader presents a problem to opposing pitchers.

Her bat is vital to the success of the team this season, so it was good to not read any reports of her having any problems related to her knees.

2. Dealin’ Denham

Redshirt junior Alyssa Denham struck out 18 batters in 11 innings of work. Denham had some Greg Maddux swag in the circle by painting corners, hitting her spots and keeping batters off-balance. She sits fourth in conference in strikeouts.

Denham has all the makings of being a great in that second spot in the rotation, and is off to a great start.

If she continues at this pace, Arizona will have one of the best pitching duos in conference.

3. Bottom of the lineup blues

The 6-9 hitters left a lot to be desired. Hillary Edior, Izzy Pacho, Ivy Davis, Jenna Kean, Carli Campbell, and Rylee Pierce didn’t produce over the weekend.

Davis went 2 for 7, Pacho went 0 for 8, Edior went 1 for 11, and Piece went 0 for 11 with four strikeouts.

The season is still very young, but the bottom of the lineup contributed greatly to the 35 total runners left on base in Florida.

Pierce’s performance was surprising since she was a second-team All-SEC player last season. Going from the SEC to the Pac-12 isn’t a drastic change, so Pierce should get back to form sooner rather than later.

Arizona cannot live and die by the home run, so finding consistency throughout the lineup is key. However, the bottom of the lineup needs more work than the top.

4. Magnificent Malia

Malia Martinez had six hits, two home runs and four RBIs over the weekend. It’s a 180 from first five games last season, when she had one hit and one RBI.

Martinez, who batted in the fifth spot, can provided a mixture of base hits and power that will only strengthen the top half of the lineup.

5. Who’s in the outfield?

Palomino-Cardoza in centerfield is written in pen this season. But who will be playing on her left and right side?

Candrea used Edior, Kean, Davis, Campbell, and Hannah “Peanut” Martinez in left in right field, but it’s safe to say those two spots are still up for grabs.

Will the two spots be rotated in and out like last weekend? Does Marissa Schuld get a look in the outfield? Schuld, the highly touted freshman, only got one at-bat last weekend.