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Arizona softball cracks Top 5 in two major preseason polls

COLLEGE SOFTBALL: FEB 28 Drake at Arizona Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Arizona Wildcats ended their eight-year Women’s College World Series drought in 2019, and experts expect them to return to Oklahoma City in 2020.

The Wildcats are ranked in the Top 5 in two major preseason polls. D1Softball pegs Arizona as the No. 3 team in the country, behind Washington and Alabama. FloSoftball ranks the Wildcats as the No. 5 squad, behind Alabama, Washington, Oklahoma and UCLA.

The reasons for Arizona’s high mark are obvious: the Wildcats boast a strong senior class that features NCAA home runs leader Jessie Harper, Pac-12 batting champion Reyna Carranco, All-American center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, and a steadily improving third baseman in Malia Martinez. Arizona also returns three left-handed-hitting outfielders that started at least 24 games last season in Carli Campbell, Peanut Martinez and Jenna Kean.

In the circle, Arizona returns last year’s No. 2 starter Alyssa Denham (13-6, 1.96 ERA) and made what is arguably the biggest offseason addition in the sport by landing Oklahoma right-hander Mariah Lopez (19-1, 1.25 ERA), who may very well be an upgrade from former ace Taylor McQuillin.

Not only do Denham and Lopez feature contrasting pitching styles that should make them an effective duo, but they also have plenty of big-game experience, both having started games in the WCWS.

The Wildcats do have some question marks, like figuring out who will replace Olympian Dejah Mulipola behind the plate, but for the most part they are devoid of any glaring weaknesses.

The 2020 season begins on Feb. 7 vs. Kansas in Tempe as part of the annual Kajikawa Classic.