The Arizona Wildcats finally broke through to the Women’s College World Series last season, ending an eight-year drought, and their pitching was a big reason why.
The Wildcats posted a 1.61 ERA, the sixth-best mark in the country.
There shouldn’t be any drop-off in 2020. The Wildcats welcome back No. 2 starter Alyssa Denham (13-6, 1.94 ERA) and three underclassmen in Hanah Bowen (3-0, 0.48 ERA), Marissa Schuld (2-0, 0.48 ERA), and Vanessa Foreman (1-0, 3.75 ERA).
And while Arizona lost ace Taylor McQuillin (24-8, 1.52 ERA), it added senior right-hander Mariah Lopez (19-1, 1.25 ERA) from Oklahoma, one of the top transfers in the country.
I caught up with third-year pitching coach Taryne Mowatt to check in on the staff and what fans can expect this season as the Wildcats try to make another run to the WCWS.
Here is the Q&A:
Ryan Kelapire: When you look back at last season, how did you think it went for your group?
Taryne Mowatt: “I was really pleased with last season and it actually went better than I thought in terms of being able to use multiple pitchers. I thought it was really nice to have multiple starters whereas we relied heavily on Taylor the year before, her and Denham. But being able to get Gina (Snyder) some starts and get Bo some starts and Marissa and Vanessa each got a win or more in that group. I thought being able to spread out the innings was really beneficial for our starters.”
RK: Why is it so beneficial?
TM: “It allows them to get a little bit of rest on their bodies, but it also gives them a little confidence knowing that they don’t have to always be the one that is great every time they go out there, that there are other options that can get the job done as well.”
RK: So is the plan this season to keep spreading it out?
TM: “Yeah, definitely in the beginning, at least. I think we have three other pitchers besides Mariah and Denham that are more than capable of winning us some games. And I think that they deserve the opportunity to prove that they can be a starter at this level.”
RK: What are the keys for those three to take that next step?
TM: “I think last year Bo did a really good job for us. I mean, she was definitely my go-to out of the bullpen, just because I knew what I was getting with her. And she’s very consistent in her performances, and she started games for us too and was really successful with that. I think with Marissa and Vanessa, just that experience and that consistency. Seeing that consistency every day, in the bullpens and in scrimmages and in the games, that allows us to have a little bit of confidence in them.”
RK: For people who have never seen Mariah pitch before, what can they expect from her?
TM: “She has a very calm presence. Her motion is really smooth, but the ball comes out of her hand really fast. When you see it in person, you’ll understand what I’m what I’m saying because she doesn’t look like she’s gonna throw super hard by her motion, but then the ball just gets on top of you really quickly. She’s very calm on the mound. She definitely has a routine that she sticks to, and hopefully she just goes out and shows everybody what she can do.”
RK: What is Mariah’s velocity at?
TM: “She’s in the upper 60s.”
RK: In what areas has Denham improved the most?
TM: “I think her confidence that she can throw on both sides of the plate, and she came back ready for the season. She’s probably the one in the bullpen that talks about, ‘I can’t wait till we play. I can’t wait till we play.’ So she’s very excited for the opportunity to come back. And I think that’s our whole team in general, I think they’re very excited to get going, play another team finally other than ourselves. And I think after the World Series experiencing that, they know what it feels like and I think they want that again.”
RK: Denham’s velocity has increased a lot since she’s been here. Where is she at now?
TM: “She has a couple different speeds but she’s in the upper 60s as well, and I think with her it is managing her movement with her speed because there are times when she’s throwing too hard, like 69 or 70, and the ball’s not breaking as much. So it’s been fun kind of figuring out, ‘okay, at this speed my ball does this. At this speed it’s a little bit more flat.’ So she’s been playing around with that, but she’s in the upper 60s. She’s hit 69, 70 and she just works hard.”
RK: Both Denham and Mariah talked about improving their endurance. What have they done to do that?
TM: “They’ve done a lot of conditioning outside on their own. We kind of ramped up their conditioning on our team conditioning days. So when the position players are doing certain things in terms of form running, our pitchers are conditioning. And I think we’ve kind of stretched them out in our inter squad (games) to allow them to go seven, eight innings to get them ready for the season.”
RK: Mariah throws up in the zone; Denham throws down. Why will that be such an effective combination?
TM: “It’s just a different look for hitters. I mean, you have if you have a team that is really good at the high pitch, well we have an option for that. If you have a team that is really good at the down pitch, we have a counter option for that as well. And just when you’re facing multiple hitters over the course of a weekend, the more they see you, the more they get comfortable with you, so it’s just good to give them a different look.”
RK: How much of a difference is it not having Dejah Mulipola behind the plate?
TM: “I mean, it’s definitely a difference especially when you have the best catcher in the country in Dejah and her relationship that she had with the pitchers, and just that they were very comfortable with her. But Izzy (Pacho) catches bullpens all the time, she’s been catching all the intersquads and she really wants to learn. And so she does a really good job of asking for feedback from pitchers and making those adjustments because she knows at the end of the day, they have to work together. So she’s constantly asking our pitchers, ‘okay, what about the way I caught that didn’t you like?’ Or ‘how did you feel about when I caught that outside pitch?’ So she’s constantly learning.”
RK: What changes have you made since last season?
TM: “I haven’t made a ton of changes. I thought we were pretty successful last year with our pitching staff and so I didn’t want really want to change too much. I mean, we worked on different some different grips, getting some pitchers some changeups, and other than that, I don’t really think that we’ve changed too much in the bullpen. I have a big radar set up in the bullpen so they can see their speed on every pitch and it kind of just lets them know how hard they’re working. Because sometimes as a pitcher, you think you’re going so fast and you’re working really hard, but then on the radar gun it’s not showing. So it just gives them feedback on what they’re doing in the bullpen every day.”
RK: Mariah and Denham have both pitched in the Women’s College World Series. How big of a deal is that?
TM: “It definitely gives a slight advantage. I mean, the biggest thing is being comfortable. And when you don’t have that big experience in the World Series, you’re a little uncomfortable and it’s a little overwhelming. So the more comfortable you can get, the less you think about everything going on around you. So them having that experience now, I think if they were to be put back into that situation, they would be a lot more comfortable.”