The Arizona softball team went 6-0 in the Wildcat Invitational last weekend with wins over No. 23 Minnesota and No. 19 James Madison and two apiece against Kent State and Drake.
The victories improved the 12th-ranked Wildcats to 15-5 overall and 4-3 against ranked teams.
Our recaps for those games can be found in our softball section, and here are some additional takeaways.
Peanut is emerging
Arizona’s corner outfield has been ever-changing in the early part of the season, with five players recording at least one start.
Hannah “Peanut” Martinez was the latest to get a look out there, starting in three of six games at the Wildcat Invitational.
The sophomore, who redshirted last season, capitalized by going 5 for 10 with two RBI, a triple and a stolen base. She also recorded an assist, flashing a strong arm when she gunned down a runner at third from deep right field.
Expect more where that came from.
“Peanut has kind of played her way into the lineup,” said UA coach Mike Candrea. “When she keeps it simple and just does the little things, she can play. But the big thing about her is defensively. She could be one of our better outfielders. I mean, you saw the throw she made the other night to throw the runner out.
“So she’s earned that and we got a group of kids down there that they’re good on defense and struggle offensively (or vice versa). It’s just trying to find out a little happy medium of both. And we still got a lot of games to play and you’ll continue to see some rotations in there. I haven’t given up the Carli Campbells of the world, and I think Ivy Davis is going to be a good player. She’s another one that needs to be able to slow the game down and do what she does in practice. I think that’s the big thing.”
Statman shining as a senior
Like the corner outfield, the designated player spot was up for grabs heading into the season, but it now belongs to Tamara Statman, who has started in seven of the last eight games.
The left-handed-hitting senior is batting .333 with three homers and a double, and hit the walk-off fielder’s choice in Saturday’s win against Kent State.
“It’s really awesome,” Statman said of her hot start. “It’s senior year and you have to leave everything on the field.”
Statman has had an up-and-down career at the UA. The Scottsdale native started 111 games in her first two seasons, with a batting average hovering around .280. She then struggled as a junior, hitting .125 in 24 at-bats, rarely seeing the field.
Candrea said Statman, a contact hitter, has a more nuanced approach at the plate this season.
“I’m really coming out and attacking, picking good pitches to hit, kind of taking what I’ve learned over the past few years and bringing it to this season,” she explained.
“Coach always talks about the database of all the at-bats you have and that you always pick from your rolodex of at-bats and learn from everything. For me, it’s taking everything I’ve learned from the past few years and picking from that rolodex.”
T Statman on having the walk-off RBI in @ArizonaSoftball’s win vs. Kent State: “It’s such a great feeling to have everyone happy. Ultimately what we’re doing is creating memories, and having memories like this is amazing.” pic.twitter.com/lYwrQePmDI— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) March 3, 2019
Pierce is clicking too
Not only have Martinez and Statman caught fire, so has first baseman Rylee Pierce. After going hitless in her first 16 at-bats with the Wildcats, the Missouri transfer has seven hits in her last 20 ABs, looking like the All-SEC player she was last season.
Pierce had one of the most important at-bats of the weekend Sunday against No. 19 James Madison. Down to her final strike, Pierce hit a hard grounder to the right side that ate up the JMU second baseman, allowing Ivy Davis to score and force extra innings, where the Wildcats won on a walk-off homer by Jessie Harper.
“We were so happy,” Harper said. “It could have been anyone, but for it to be Rylee and for her to hit the ball hard and have that moment here in Hillenbrand Stadium in front of our fans, being a transfer, that’s all we really want for her. But I had confidence in anyone in our lineup.”
That is because the Wildcats collectively hammered the ball during the Wildcat Invitational, averaging 6.7 runs per game.
The top of the lineup has been tremendous all season. Harper, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, Reyna Carranco, Dejah Mulipola and Malia Martinez are all hitting .350 or better. Harper, who blasted five homers in the Wildcat Invitational, is second in the nation in long balls (11). Arizona leads the Pac-12 in that category,
“I think that nucleus has really done a good job of giving us a little bit of stability and some time to figure out the rest of (the lineup),” Candrea said.
Defense dragging at home
Hillenbrand Stadium has been a house of horrors for Arizona’s defense.
The Wildcats have committed all 19 of their errors at their home ballpark, letting the game get uncharacteristically quick on them. There were two prime examples Sunday when Harper and Pierce made throwing errors on routine plays that allowed James Madison to erase a four-run fifth-inning deficit.
“We get into the game and our motor starts running 100 miles an hour,” Candrea said.
Nine of the 24 runs ace Taylor McQuillin has surrendered have been unearned, but she has yet to show any frustration in the circle.
“Our day is going to come where we’re going to be a little more relaxed in the infield, not as much stressed or pressed for outs,” she said.
“I think most of the time it’s the physical mistakes. You know, we have the minor overthrows or the missed balls and stuff. To me, those are physical, those aren’t mental and and those are the mistakes that you want to have because you can fix them. Mental mistakes are the ones that are harder to fix and I think our team is really checked into what we’re doing. We just have to be more efficient and more effective with our outs in the infield, outfield, on defense and on offense. And I think that our time is going to come. We’re still working through it. We’re in the learning process and our battle is really what’s keeping us in these games right now.”
Arizona has won 12 of its last 13 games despite its shaky defense, which Candrea thinks is sign of a mature team that knows how to battle through adversity.
Still, things could get ugly next weekend if those defensive woes continue when Florida State, the reigning national champions and No. 1 team in the country, come to Hillenbrand for a three-game series.
“You play a team like a Florida State, you can’t give them more than 21 outs,” Candrea said.
We’re about to learn about the pitching staff
The Florida State series will be Arizona’s first three-game set of the year, so it will give us a better idea of how the Wildcats plan to manage their pitching staff.
McQuillin (7-4, 1.40 ERA) will surely start games one and three of the series, but game two could be interesting. Will Arizona dig into its bullpen and try to get outs by committee or ride with No. 2 starter Alyssa Denham, who has struggled in her last two outings?
McQuillin and Denham combined for 90 percent of Arizona’s innings last season, so the latter seems more likely, but Candrea and pitching coach Taryne Mowatt like the diversity within their pitching staff and hope it will allow them to play the matchups more than they did last season, when Arizona only had four pitchers instead of six.
“It’s all hands on deck for us,” Candrea said. “When you get into a three-game series, you may see multiple pitchers. Right now, Taylor is still my go-to and then we have a really good support.”
Walk-on and Tucson native Gina Snyder made a strong case to be a fixture in the rotation by tossing four scoreless innings against Kent State a week after she threw a shutout against Team Japan in Palm Springs.
“Gina has climbed the ladder,” Candrea said Friday. “That’s the one thing I can tell you right now.”
Before the Florida State series gets underway the Wildcats will travel to Las Cruces for a Tuesday doubleheader against New Mexico State.
The Aggies are 9-5 this season and have won the WAC four straight years. They have beaten North Carolina and Cal this season.
First pitch is set for 3:30 p.m. MST on FOX Sports Arizona.