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What we learned about Arizona softball at the Kajikawa Classic

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Takeaways from the Wildcats’ 5-0 start

Bella Dayton
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

The Arizona softball team completed the opening weekend of the season with a perfect 5-0 record at the Kajikawa Classic.

The fifth-ranked Wildcats beat Kansas 11-1 (in five innings), Seattle 4-3, Portland State 6-3, Western Michigan 12-0 (in five innings) and No. 12 Tennessee 8-0 (in five innings) in Tempe.

Recaps and postgame interviews from all five games can be found in our softball section. Below are some additional takeaways from the weekend.

Mariah Lopez and Alyssa Denham are 1A and 1B for now, not a 1-2 punch

Mariah Lopez and Alyssa Denham made two starts apiece in Tempe, with Denham tossing two more innings (13.2) than her senior counterpart.

Lopez was the more effective pitcher, allowing one run over 11.2 innings with 20 strikeouts, but Denham got the start against No. 12 Tennessee, which says a lot about the coaching staff’s confidence in her since that was by far the best opponent of the weekend.

Altogether, Denham allowed three runs in 4.1 innings against Seattle, but responded by tossing 9.1 scoreless innings against Portland State and Tennessee.

It will be interesting to see who gets the nod against No. 3 Oklahoma this weekend at the Hillenbrand Invitational. Starting Lopez, a former Sooner, would obviously make for a must-see matchup.

Maybe it doesn’t matter.

There was a lot of talk this offseason about how the contrasting styles of Denham and Lopez would work so well together, and it showed against Seattle.

Once the Redhawks started to get a beat on Denham, who generally throws down in the zone, the Wildcats turned to Lopez, who throws high and hard, and it paid off.

Lopez tossed 2.2 scoreless innings in relief with five strikeouts, helping the Wildcats survive a scare.

Ideally, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza won’t have to lead off

After unsuccessfully finding someone new to anchor the top of the lineup, Mike Candrea went back to Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza in the leadoff spot against No. 12 Tennessee.

Ideally, someone else will take over that role so APC’s power can bolster the middle of the order and replace some of the pop the Wildcats lost with Dejah Mulipola out for the Olympics.

Janelle Meono and Bella Dayton got a crack at the one-spot, but they hit a combined 2 for 17 with a pair of walks in Tempe.

What Candrea is looking for in that leadoff spot is simple.

“On-base percentage is everything, so getting on base, having quality at bats, and I think at this level, you’ve got to be able to swing away when we have RBI situations,” he said.

The benefits of using APC in the cleanup spot showed. She drove in 11 runs in five games, a total she did not reach until the 12th game of the 2019 season even though she hit five homers during that stretch. She hit three in Tempe.

Bella Dayton has a lot of tools

Dayton only had one hit in Tempe, but the freshman outfielder showed a ton of promise. She pulled a homer to right to show her power, made a diving catch in left to show her range, and gunned down a runner at the plate to show a strong, accurate arm.

The former PGF All-American did not have much of an opportunity to showcase her speed, but she is a former track star and was best known for her contact hitting in high school, so that part of her game should come.

But there is a lot of competition in the outfield, so how soon it comes around will determine how much she plays this season. Peanut Martinez, Carli Campbell, Jenna Kean and Janelle Meono are all vying for time out there as well.

Janelle Meono wasn’t herself

Meono, the team’s top recruit, hit just 1 for 10 with an RBI single in Tempe, a looper to left in the 4-3 win over Seattle.

She also made an error in the outfield, mishandling a grounder that allowed two Kansas players to advance into scoring position. Candrea, unprompted, said a couple times that Meono was not performing the way she did in the fall or the team’s scrimmages this winter.

“It was funny today because Janelle Meono has not struck out but twice all fall against our pitchers, and tonight she just wasn’t seeing that lefty very well,” Candrea said after Meono fanned three times against Seattle.

After Meono went 0 for 3 against Portland State and did not play in the final two games of the weekend, Candrea said: “Janelle is going to be a really good player and right now she’s pressing a little bit, and it’s amazing because against our pitchers she was just freaking nails, and that’s kind of part of being young.”

Ivy Davis overcame an early mistake to have a solid weekend

Ivy Davis made an error in her first-ever appearance at first base, unable to corral a sharp grounder and then throwing it away as Reyna Carranco came over to cover first base.

Davis, otherwise, was very solid and hit 5 for 10 with a homer, three RBI, and a stolen base. She went 2 for 2 with two RBI against Tennessee.

Candrea said who starts at first base will be determined by who provides the most offense, so expect to see more Davis at first in the Hillenbrand Invitational this weekend.

“It’s totally different in games than in practices, but it’s fun, you’re always in the game,” Davis said. “It’s new to me, but it’s super cool.”

Marissa Schuld and Izzy Pacho will battle for DP spot when Sharlize Palacios is healthy

Former Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year Marissa Schuld had a big weekend at the plate too, with four hits in eight at-bats, including a clutch two-run homer and RBI double in the win over Portland State, the first two hits of her career. Even her outs were loud in Tempe.

And against Tennessee, Schuld singled, scored, and drew a walk. She also tossed a scoreless inning in relief against Western Michigan, her only action in the circle.

Schuld and Izzy Pacho should make for good competition at the designated player spot moving forward. Pacho caught the first five games, but might not stick there once freshman Sharlize Palacios, who has a broken thumb on her catching hand but is close to returning, is back in action.

Pacho, whose arm strength is not quite up to Palacios’, permitted two wild pitches while catching Denham—the sophomore has had trouble squeezing her drop-balls—and made a careless mistake against Western Michigan when she threw the ball down to first base after believing Lopez had gotten a strikeout even though it was only strike two.

But Pacho certainly held her own at the plate, with six hits in 16 at-bats, including a homer, a double, and a sharp single off the right-field wall.

The Tennessee win was unsatisfying

The final score of Sunday’s win vs. No. 12 Tennessee was not indicative of the way Arizona played. The Volunteers basically gifted them five runs in the first inning with walks, passed balls, and two errors by the second baseman.

Arizona had six hits in five innings, all singles, Candrea saying his team was a little anxious at the plate.

Plus, Tennessee’s best pitcher—Ashley Rogers, a member of the SEC All-Preseason Team—was not available in the Kajikawa Classic for an undisclosed reason.

So, it was a good win that will boost Arizona’s résumé come Selection Monday, but we will know a lot more about this team’s upside after it plays Oklahoma this weekend.