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‘Fireball’ Carli Campbell sparking Arizona softball’s offense in Women’s College World Series run

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

When Arizona left fielder Carli Campbell beats a throw to first base, you can expect to see her scream, shout, and give an emphatic low five to base coach Mo Mercado.

Then Campbell will usually turn to the dugout and yell some words of encouragement to her teammates.

“She’s a little nutcase sometimes,” laughs center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza. “She’s a little fireball.”

But the celebration is warranted because when Campbell, Arizona’s No. 9 hitter, secures those precious 60 feet, it means she has done her job.

“Get on and flip the lineup,” she said of her objective.

The walk-on has been an unsung hero for the Wildcats in the postseason. Campbell has four hits in Arizona’s last three games, three of which occurred during the Super Regional sweep of Ole Miss.

Most importantly, the speedy slapper has scored four runs in that span, serving as a catalyst for the top of the lineup, which is loaded with some of the nation’s most-feared hitters.

“We’ve had moments where Peanut (Martinez) gets on with two outs and then Carli comes up and gets on,” said Palomino-Cardoza, the leadoff batter. “It hypes our bench up and it hypes me and Jessie (Harper) up because now we have know we can get things done.”

While Arizona is second in the nation in home runs, all but one of Campbell’s 16 hits have been singles, a double against Grand Canyon on April 13 being the lone outlier.

“I have the easy job. Get on base,” Campbell said. “That’s all I have to do knowing that I have Alyssa, Jessie, Malia (Martinez) and Dejah (Mulipola) behind me.”

Campbell’s instructions at the plate are pretty simple too: keep the ball on the ground.

“We have a very hard field here, and I like to take advantage of that,” she said.

That Campbell has stepped up her play in the postseason has been no surprise to head coach Mike Candrea, who’s been watching her since she was an all-state player at Tucson’s Canyon Del Oro High School.

“Carli is just a grinder,” Candrea said. “She’s a kid that thrives on pressure. She’s a kid that thrives on someone telling her she can’t do something. She’s grown up with that chip on her shoulder, and that’s why we call her Tanner (from Bad News Bears) because she loves those moments. And I think the great thing about her is she comes to work every day and gives it everything she has, and doesn’t play all the other games. And when her time is called, she’s usually ready for it.”

Last season, when Campbell unexpectedly burst onto the scene, Candrea called her an overachiever, someone who maximizes every ounce of her potential.

The 5-foot-4 Campbell isn’t the fastest or strongest player, and Candrea jokes that her base hits aren’t always pretty, but he marvels at how she always seems to put the ball in play. The redshirt sophomore has only struck out nine times in 180 career at-bats.

“She was a really good offensive player in high school, but when you move up to this level, especially with the short game, she’s starting to understand that she’s got to expand what she can do,” Candrea said. “Because right now her game is basically about placement and if she can make the ball hop and get it in the wrong place. She doesn’t have that Caitlin Lowe 2.6 (second) speed, so she’s got to be able to handle the bat. But the thing I love about her is she usually sees the ball well, and she’s going to put the ball in play. Some way, somehow she’s really good at laying off the riseball, stays on top of it. So there’s a lot of reasons why she’s in that lineup.”

Her energy is another.

“She is so awesome,” Mulipola said. “She is everyone’s hype man. She’s always there in your corner to hype you up and compliment you. After everyone hits a home run, she’s always in their face like ‘you’re so awesome. I can’t believe you! You’re amazing!’”

Campbell texted Mulipola before Saturday’s win vs. Ole Miss to say “this is your day.” Sure enough, Mulipola homered in her first at-bat.

“So she’s a very special teammate and she’s definitely embraced her role and stepped up when we needed her to,” Mulipola said.

Campbell hopes to continue igniting the Wildcats in the Women’s College World Series, where runs are always at a premium. The Tucson native says wearing the Block A in Oklahoma City will be a dream come true.

“I’m just super excited,” she said. “I’ve felt that I struggled throughout the year and went through a little rough patch and now that it’s postseason I get really excited when I do get the job done.”