The Arizona softball team faced Team USA on Tuesday before it heads to Palm Springs for the annual Mary Nutter Classic.
Jessie Harper made a statement, whether she intended to or not
Cat Osterman didn’t really know much about Jessie Harper before Tuesday’s exhibition.
She does now.
Harper crushed two homers, driving in all four runs in the 5-4 loss, moments she will remember forever. The senior belted a solo shot to left off Osterman in the fourth and a three-run bomb to the opposite-field against Ally Carda in the fifth.
Osterman, arguably the best pitcher the sport has ever seen, was impressed.
“Obviously, I won the first encounter and she was ready for the second one because the pitch she hit out was what she struck out on,” she said. “So obviously she makes adjustments pretty well.”
Harper, who led the NCAA in homers last season, said she was focused on atoning for some defensive miscues and enjoying the once-in-a-lifetime experience of facing Team USA, not making a statement that she should be on their roster one day.
Naturally, that happened anyway.
“She’s a phenomenal hitter and it was fun to see her in this arena,” said Arizona coach Mike Candrea. “And I think every kid wants to kind of show off to say, ‘hey, I’d like to wear that uniform one day’ and I thought this was Harper’s opportunity to say, ‘Hey, don’t forget about me.’”
Oh don’t worry, USA coach Ken Eriksen knows all about her.
“She was in our USA program for a few years and she’ll be another guy that will be in the program going forward,” he said. “Whether she plays shortstop, third, outfield, she’s such a great athlete and she carries a heavy barrel, so for her tonight was special. But at the same time remember, she doesn’t fear this type of stuff because she’s played against it before and she’s worn USA. So it was good to see her do it today. We expected her to do that.”
Arizona shortstop Jessie Harper on hitting a homer vs. Cat Osterman in the exhibition vs. Team USA: “It probably hasn’t sunk in yet and probably won’t until I call my dad. I know he’s gonna be super excited.” pic.twitter.com/c0YAvVixSi— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) February 19, 2020
The Lopez-Denham duo worked well against the best lineup in the world, giving them a confidence boost heading into the Mary Nutter Classic
The senior duo of Alyssa Denham and Mariah Lopez proved it is effective even against the best lineup in the world, closing out the night out with two scoreless innings apiece. They allowed just two hits while striking out five, giving the Wildcats a chance to hand Team USA its first loss.
Arizona has rotated Denham and Lopez pretty liberally this season, using their contrasting styles to their advantage, a formula they believe can get them back to the Women’s College World Series.
Eriksen can see it.
“Candrea’s got a good one-two punch this year and the other two guys (Hanah Bowen and Marissa Schuld) are not too bad,” he said. “College softball nowadays is about putting a staff together because it’s so long and the hitters are so good. It’s not about getting strikeouts, it’s about getting outs.”
After blanking Team USA, Candrea figures Denham and Lopez will be riding high heading into the Mary Nutter Classic this weekend, where they face Texas A&M, No. 18 Missouri, San Diego State, No. 7 Florida, and Auburn.
“You shut out the U.S. team, dammit you better shut out whoever we’re playing,” he laughed.
Here’s Arizona pitcher Alyssa Denham on facing Dejah Mulipola and Team USA, “fangirling” over their pitchers, and combining with Mariah Lopez to throw 4 scoreless innings. pic.twitter.com/T2YEJb0paq— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) February 19, 2020
Dejah Mulipola is wise beyond her years
Dejah Mulipola has such a splendid skill set that Candrea always says she would be making big bucks if she were a baseball player.
But it’s not the 22-year-old’s power, speed or arm strength that impresses her Team USA teammates and coaches the most. It’s her maturity.
“I love throwing to Dejah,” Osterman said. “I don’t think either of us have been very shy about the fact that we just have a very good connection, and we have since the first time she caught me at tryouts in January of 2019. First time we got put together, it was just automatic almost. She receives well for me, she stays low, she’s quiet. and over time she’s really developed a relationship to know what to say to me, which is not always easy when you’re one of the youngest (players) and you’re dealing with one of the oldest.”
Eriksen noted that Mulipola is improving at calling games, something she did not do at Arizona.
“I think she’s always called games pretty well, she just didn’t know she called them well,” Osterman said. “Because I had to tell her over time, ‘you’re not just guessing, whatever you’re doing is working.’ And so now she’s very confident and starts to get creative sometimes. Sometimes I have to reel her back in and be like, ‘no, let’s just stick to what’s working.’ But she’s comfortable back there, and it’s nice. Because I can know what my gut says but at the same time, if she doesn’t throw down what my gut says, I know how she’s thinking now and so we can play a little bit and sometimes she comes up with some ideas that I wouldn’t think of, which is awesome.”
Here’s legendary pitcher Cat Osterman on giving up a homer to Jessie Harper, working with Dejah Mulipola, and Coach Candrea’s message to Team USA after the game. pic.twitter.com/fcP4u0xLgl— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) February 19, 2020
Arizona softball is so special
Flashy facilities like the new Hillenbrand Stadium are great and really enhance a program, but Tuesday illustrated what really makes Arizona softball special: the people.
Joining Mulipola in her homecoming were five other UA Olympians in Jennie Finch, Alicia Hollowell, Nicole Giordano, Leah O’Brien and Lovie Jung, who spent much of the night taking photos and signing autographs for fans.
All were coached by Mike Candrea, a Hall of Famer who has been at the UA for 35 years and still is showing no signs of slowing down.
His assistants are Caitlin Lowe and Taryne Mowatt, a pair of UA alums who were All-Americans and won back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007.
Candrea’s undergraduate and graduate assistants are Rylee Pierce and Mo Mercado, respectively, again two former Wildcats who played the game at a high level.
Even the press box was loaded with Wildcats on Tuesday. T Statman (2016-19) was reporting for Wildcats Radio 1290 while Kenzie Fowler (2010-2014) was doing color commentary for Pac-12 Network.
Before Candrea conducted his postgame interview with local reporters, he gave Statman a big hug, and later they chatted about life, not softball.
You always hear programs refer to themselves as a family, but in the case of Arizona softball it is actually true, and dang is it a privilege to be around.