Coming off a solid outing in the Mary Nutter Classic, the Arizona softball teams returns to Hillenbrand Stadium for a slew of games this weekend, starting Thursday against Drake to kick off the Wildcat Invitational.
The ‘Cats will also face Kent State, No. 24 Minnesota and No. 18 James Madison to round out the weekend.
Here are the things to watch for as UA delves deeper into non-conference play.
T can still Tee off
The designated player spot is still up for grabs, but T Statman made her case for more playing time. In her 10 at-bats this season, Statman is hitting .500, with two home runs and four RBI. It’s a small sample, but her production is undeniable.
Plus, Statman has been in the role since her freshman year, so her experience in it can only help.
Freshman Izzy Pacho, a highly regarded recruit, is still finding her way around D1 softball. She has 16 at-bats—all from the DP role—and is batting .063. Statman can serve as a mentor to the freshman as she gets acclimated to the speed of the game.
Will coach Mike Candrea let Statman see more at-bats this week? Or will he continue to see if someone else can step up?
Plenty of pitching, not enough innings
Candrea has six quality pitchers at his disposable, but finding innings for them is his predicament. It’s a good problem to have.
Taylor McQuillin and Alyssa Denham will bare most of work as the 1-2 in the rotation.
When it comes the third pitcher, however, the argument can be made for Marissa Schuld, Hanah Bowen and Gina Snyder to see time in that role.
Schuld and Snyder had solid outings in their first starts of the season last weekend, while Bowen has serviced well in her two appearances in the circle.
Schuld is a highly-decorated freshman who has all the makings of becoming the next great Arizona hurler. Snyder earned the right to have her name discussion after her shutout against Team Japan, the No. 2 team in the world, illuminated her fight and tenaciousness.
How Candrea shuffles the pitching staff these games and the rest of non-conference play will be an interesting aspect.
Arizona has yet to beat a top-10 team this year, losing to Alabama, Florida and Oklahoma.
During interviews this week, players and Candrea said they’re not taking those losses as a bad thing, but as a sign the team is on the cusp of playing like they know they can.
With the exception of the Alabama game, Arizona lost its top-10 games by one run. As Candrea put it, Arizona is “not a top-10 team right now, but we’re knocking on the door.”
The start of the season has been underwhelming, but as heart of the season approaches, look for this team to start to play up to its talent level.
A solid game against Oklahoma and an impressive win of Team Japan are foundations they can build upon to reach the level of play they desire, and this week the team can take that next step in the process, with wins over two ranked teams in Minnesota and James Madison.
Alyssa and Reyna
The 1-2 punch of Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza and Reyna Carranco has been setting the table nicely so far this season. The two juniors have a combined seven homers, 24 RBIs and 35 hits on the season.
From Palomino-Cardoza’s power to Carranco’s consistent swing, the duo sets up the rest of the lineup well. Both players are vital cogs in UA’s offense and pose troublesome for opposing pitchers.
Rylee rising up
When the Wildcats landed Rylee Pierce from Missouri, it was assumed she would be one of UA’s top hitters this season.
After all, the former Tiger hit over .300 and flashed some power last season when she was a second-team All-SEC performer.
However, she is off to an extremely slow start in Tucson, with just two hits in her first 23 at-bats. Candrea said she is pressing, so perhaps this will be the weekend she finally settles in and starts clubbing the ball around the ballpark the way she did at her previous school.
Arizona’s lineup, very top-heavy, could certainly use the boost.
If Arizona has a home-field advantage at the new Hillenbrand Stadium, it isn’t showing yet. The Wildcats have committed 11 errors this season and all of them have come at home.
Players and coaches have attributed that discrepancy to nerves and the Wildcats still getting adjusted to playing under the lights at their new stadium.
They practiced Wednesday evening to try to combat that, so let’s see if it pays off this weekend.