The Arizona Wildcats softball team completed its fall season Thursday with an eight-inning scrimmage that the Blue team won 6-5.
The program was gracious enough to invite me to Hillenbrand Stadium for the day, and though players and coaches were unavailable for interviews afterwards (they will speak next week), it was nice to see the team in person for the first time.
Here are five takeaways along with a video breakdown with our friend Troy Hutchison from AllSportsTucson.
The freshmen don’t look like freshmen
Contrary to what you’d typically expect, most of the most physically-imposing players on the team are freshmen.
5-foot-10 Sophia Carroll actually looked bigger than fellow newcomer Carlie Scupin even though Carroll is listed as two inches shorter and Scupin is known for her monster power. Aris Carroll is slightly shorter than her twin sister, but just as solid. There’s also Devyn Netz, who’s 5-foot-9 and Allie Skaggs and Giulia Koutsoyanopulos, who are every bit of 5-foot-8.
Seniors Alyssa Denham (6-foot-1) and Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza (5-foot-11) are the only Arizona players who are taller than them. None of the aforementioned newcomers look like strangers to the weight room, either.
Their physicality translates to the field. Netz, Arizona’s top recruit, was regularly hitting 66 MPH on the radar gun, even registering at 67 at one point, about the same velocity Denham and Mariah Lopez sit at. More importantly Netz was getting outs, tossing three scoreless innings.
On the flip side, Netz, Carroll, Scupin and Skaggs all homered during the fall and Skaggs and Netz ripped doubles to the opposite field in Thursday’s scrimmage. Netz split the gap with a screaming liner to right center and Skaggs plopped a double just in front of the right-field foul pole.
Scupin laced two hard grounders through the infield—one through the left side and one through the right side—for a pair of RBI. Her timing seemed off, but she did blast a three-run homer in Wednesday’s scrimmage, showing off some of her trademark bat speed.
Add those intimidating hitters to a lineup that already includes elite bats like Jessie Harper, Dejah Mulipola, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, Reyna Carranco and Malia Martinez and you feel bad for any pitcher that has to face Arizona this season.
Dejah is back...and better than ever?
After training and touring with Team USA last year, the college game should be easier for Mulipola in her redshirt senior season and it showed in these scrimmages.
She homered in all three this past week, including a three-run laser to left center off Denham on Thursday.
Considering Mulipola was already the best catcher in the sport when she stepped away to train for the Olympics after the 2019 campaign, it’s exciting to think about what kind of numbers she’ll put up this year.
Can she top the career-high 23 homers she hit as a junior?
The lineup isn’t clear, but the depth chart kind of is
Coach Mike Candrea made sure that both teams featured a good mix of seniors and underclassmen Thursday, so it’s hard know exactly what the starting nine will look like when the games start to count in February.
But after seeing the lineups and how the players were positioned, this is what the depth chart might look like:
- C: Dejah Mulipola/Sharlize Palacios/Izzy Pacho
- 1B: Carlie Scupin/Giulia Koutsoyanopulos
- 2B: Reyna Carranco/Allie Skaggs/Hanah Bowen
- 3B: Malia Martinez/Aris Carroll
- SS: Jessie Harper/Sophia Carroll
- LF: Bella Dayton/Jasmine Perezchica
- CF: Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza/Janelle Meono
- RF: Peanut Martinez/Alayna Hicks
- UT: Devyn Netz/Hanah Bowen/Izzy Pacho
If you want a batting order, here’s one possibility:
- Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, CF
- Reyna Carranco, 2B
- Jessie Harper, SS
- Dejah Mulipola, C
- Malia Martinez, 3B
- Carlie Scupin, 1B
- Sophia Carroll, DP
- Peanut Martinez, RF
- Bella Dayton, LF
You can go a lot of different ways with those last three spots, including putting Netz at one of them when she’s not pitching. Playing time at corner outfield and designated player will be up for grabs all season and will likely go to whoever’s swinging the bat well in that moment in time.
As far as the pitching goes, the Wildcats kind of struggled in the fall, with a source who was at all the scrimmages saying the offense is ahead of the pitching right now. That makes sense considering the pitchers are coming off a long, weird offseason and it takes time to build their arms up to where they need to be for the season.
10 of the 11 runs allowed Thursday came at Lopez and Denham’s expense, which to me isn’t concerning because we already know what they can do at this level.
Bowen got hit around a little too before settling in, but Netz was impressive and it’s easy to envision a scenario in which she’s a darn good No. 3 behind Lopez and Denham. That’s important because Lopez and Denham were pitching too many innings in 2020 before the season was cancelled.
Games will be different without fans, but not as weird as you’d think
Thursday’s scrimmage was my first time attending a live sporting event since the coronavirus pandemic canceled the Pac-12 basketball tournament in early March.
My takeaway was that college softball translates well to an empty-stadium setting. Or at least better than other sports.
Fake crowd noise won’t be needed if fans aren’t allowed at games. Softball venues are small, so the competing chants from the players on the diamond and the players in the dugout ensure at-bats aren’t taken in silence and there’s an authentic reaction to each pitch.
In one instance you could hear the players on the red team getting on the home plate umpire for what they thought was a missed call on an attempted steal of second. (To be fair, there was no field umpire, so that’s a tough call to have to make.)
Softball is a pretty physically-distant sport as it is, so the only other super noticeable difference was that some of the players wore masks—especially when hitting—and avoided high fives. That made pregame intros and home-run celebrations a little awkward, but that’s a small tradeoff if it means a chance to play.
Taylor is back too—and will be busy
In case you missed it, former ace Taylor McQuillin is back with the program as a graduate manager. Thursday, she was handling the radar gun. She was posted behind home plate, a few seats away from assistant coach Taryne Mowatt-McKinney who was tracking pitches by hand.
Of course, McQuillin still needs to train for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, so in the fourth inning she got up, grabbed her glove and stepped into the circle for a scoreless inning of work—just like old times.
This season will be a great opportunity for her to pursue a master’s degree, keep her arm sharp and learn from a terrific Arizona staff in case she decides to go into coaching once she’s done with school.