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What we learned about Arizona softball at the Mary Nutter Classic

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The Wildcats head to Alabama this weekend

COLLEGE SOFTBALL: MAR 10 USC Upstate at Arizona
Jenna Kean
Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Arizona softball team went 3-2 in the Mary Nutter Classic last weekend, improving to 12-3 on the season. Their stint in Palm Springs went as follows:

  • 7-6 loss to Texas A&M
  • 2-0 win over No. 18 Missouri
  • 10-0 win over San Diego State
  • 3-2 loss to No. 7 Florida
  • 2-0 win over Auburn

(Note: recaps of those games can be found in our softball section.)

Before the Wildcats head to Tuscaloosa to face No. 10 Alabama (twice), McNeese State (twice) and Texas-Arlington this weekend, here are some things we learned in Palm Springs.

Arizona’s lineup is starting to get settled

The starting lineup is always fluid this time of year, especially at the bottom of the order, but it’s worth noting that Arizona trotted out this starting nine in the final three games of the Mary Nutter Classic:

  1. Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, CF
  2. Reyna Carranco, 2B
  3. Jessie Harper, SS
  4. Malia Martinez, 3B
  5. Sharlize Palacios, C
  6. Marissa Schuld, DP
  7. Ivy Davis, 1B
  8. Bella Dayton, RF
  9. Janelle Meono, LF

Nothing is ever set in stone, but Palacios and Schuld have done enough to be mainstays for now. Palacios is hitting .364 with a homer and six RBI in just 22 at-bats, including a clutch two-out RBI single against No. 7 Florida.

Schuld is hitting .429 with two homers, six RBI and a double in 28 at-bats. She has been as consistent as they come, tallying at least one hit in nine of the 10 games she’s played in.

Sophomore Izzy Pacho backs up both of them, but is hitless in her last 10 at-bats, another reason to keep Palacios and Schuld where they are.

Ivy Davis has been fine in the No. 7 spot, hitting .303 with a pair of homers.

The 8-9 spots are the biggest question marks, but we’ll get to that in a second.

Arizona’s pitchers are hard to hit, but are issuing too many free passes

Arizona has relied almost solely on Mariah Lopez and Alyssa Denham to this point, the two combining for 98.1 of the team’s 102 innings.

Opponents are only hitting .179 against them with a home-run rate of 2%. Those are slightly better numbers that last season’s staff, which held hitters to a .183 average and a 2% home-run rate.

However, Lopez and Denham are giving away too many free passes, highlighted when they walked six batters against Florida and five vs. Texas A&M.

For the season, they have walked 17 batters apiece, giving Arizona a walk rate of 9% this season compared to 7% last year. That does not take into account that they have hit 11 batters, already half as many as Arizona’s entire staff hit throughout the entire 2019 season.

Put all these things together, and Arizona has a 1.85 ERA this season compared to a 1.61 ERA last season, a slight regression that they might not be able to withstand, seeing that their offense is currently 60th in the country in runs per game.

Jenna Kean has played well enough to earn more at-bats

Arizona has not gotten much offensive production from its corner outfielders/slappers yet, with freshman Meono (.194) and junior Peanut Martinez (.091) off to slow starts. Freshman Bella Dayton (.278) has been solid but not spectacular.

It is interesting, then, that junior Jenna Kean has not gotten more of an opportunity. She is a career .298 hitter, including a .313 average last season, and has been productive when she’s been in the lineup this season.

Kean, who can play all three outfield spots, has four hits in 10 at-bats (less than half the ABs the other slappers have gotten) along with three steals, second-most on the team. She has not made an error this season either—the others have—so it’s not like her defense has been a liability.

Yet, she only appeared in one game in the Mary Nutter Classic, going 0 for 2 against Missouri.

Arizona isn’t hitting for as much power, which isn’t surprising

The Wildcats are averaging 5.7 runs per game compared to 6.5 last year, which was the ninth-best mark in the country. Here are the slash lines from those two seasons:

  • 2019: .318/.397/569
  • 2020: .318/.388/.505

Not much difference until you get to slugging percentage. The Wildcats have a 4.9% home-run rate this year, compared to 6.6% last season when they led the country in long balls. That kind of drop off is expected without Dejah Mulipola, who hit 23 homers in 2019.

Arizona will have to overcome that power deficit in the aggregate by getting more production from others as well as finding other ways to manufacture offense, like with the short game and opportunistic baserunning.

Dayton has been a great addition in that regard, swiping five bases. As a team, the Wildcats already have 13 stolen bases this year, only one fewer than they had throughout the entire 2019 season.

Don’t put too much stock in these early-season games

Losing to Texas A&M and Florida obviously wasn’t ideal but it is too early to draw any conclusions about the Wildcats’ upside.

Same goes for when they take on No. 10 Alabama this weekend. Even if they lose both, there is no reason to sound the alarm.

Remember, the Wildcats started 1-8 against top-10 teams last season before winning two of three at UCLA and sweeping the Tucson Regional and Super Regional on their way to the Women’s College World Series.

Then they beat Washington, who swept Arizona in the regular season, in their WCWS opener.