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Handing out end-of-season awards to Arizona softball

Malia Martinez
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Arizona softball season is over, so it’s time to hand out some awards to the team’s best performers in 2019.

Offensive player of the year — Jessie Harper

Harper upped her power while improving her patience in her junior season, batting .333 with career highs in homers (29), RBI (70), and walks (20). The junior led the NCAA in long balls and needs to hit a doable 27 homers in her senior season to claim UA’s all-time home runs record, currently held by Katiyana Mauga.

Defensive player of the year — Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza

After spending her sophomore season at first base, APC returned to center field as a junior and looked like she never left.

Not only did she go the entire season without making an error, Palomino-Cardoza showed incredible range, despite tearing both her ACLs earlier in her UA career. She made diving catches, catches over her shoulder, catches at the wall, and everything in between. She had four assists too.

Pitcher of the year — Taylor McQuillin

McQuillin saved her best for last, posting a career-low 1.52 ERA as a senior. The left-hander flashed an improved changeup and showed more confidence in the circle, unafraid to attack both sides of the plate, which manifest into lower home-run rates.

McQuillin shined when it mattered most too, outdueling Washington ace Taran Alvelo to lead the Wildcats to their first Women’s College World Series win since 2010.

Top newcomer — Rylee Pierce

Pierce was immediately penciled in as Arizona’s starting first baseman from the moment she transferred in from Missouri. The former All-SEC talent hit .266 with eight homers and 23 RBI in her lone season with the Wildcats, a pretty sharp regression from the .335 batting average she posted with the Tigers as a junior.

But the senior seemed to fit seamlessly with her new team and even took on a leadership role, which isn’t easy for a transfer to do. Pierce will be staying on with the Wildcats next season as an undergraduate assistant.

Breakout player of the year — Peanut Martinez

Martinez only played in two games as a freshman, but wound up starting 45 as a sophomore, emerging as Arizona’s top corner outfielder. The speedy slapper hit. 280 with two homers and 20 RBI, usually hitting in the No. 8 spot.

The best part of Martinez’s game is her defense. She can cover a lot of ground and might have the strongest arm on the team. Don’t let the nickname Peanut fool you.

Most improved player — Malia Martinez

The third baseman hit .339 with 14 homers and 57 RBI as a junior, after hitting .262 with four homers and 23 RBI as a sophomore. Meanwhile, her defense remained as strong as ever, making her one of Arizona’s top five position players.

Most versatile player — Hanah Bowen

Bowen stepped up in a pinch by taking over at second base when Reyna Carranco broke her hand late in the regular season. Bowen tallied nine hits in her first nine starts, including a critical homer in a win at UCLA.

Bowen also posted a 0.48 ERA in 29 innings, making a claim to be Arizona’s third-best pitcher and someone who can help the Wildcats replace McQuillin next season.

Best bench player — T Statman

The senior did make her fair share of starts as the designated player (25), but she really excelled in pinch-hit duty, with four hits in nine at-bats. One of them was a clutch two-run single that led the Wildcats to a win over Auburn in Regionals.

Game of the year — Series-opening win at UCLA

The victory in Westwood on May 9 snapped a five-game losing streak to the Bruins, all but ensured Arizona would be a top-8 seed in the NCAA Tournament and, most importantly, instilled some confidence in the Wildcats heading into the postseason, which they were sorely lacking.

Prior to that win over UCLA, the Wildcats had lost four of their last five, including getting swept at home by Washington. It was a true turning point in the season.

Play(s) of the year — Palomino-Cardoza’s seventh inning at UCLA

Palomino-Cardoza was the hero in the aforementioned game. The redshirt junior blasted a two-run homer in the top of the seventh to give the Wildcats a 5-3 lead, then made an incredible diving catch in the bottom half of the frame to help hold off a UCLA rally.

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