Let’s get this out of the way first. There is no replacing Dejah Mulipola, an all-world catcher who will be starring for the U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo this summer.
“That’s the thing people need to realize,” said Arizona coach Mike Candrea. “You got a pretty special kid.”
That doesn’t change the fact that the Wildcats need someone to step in for her as she redshirts this season.
Izzy Pacho will get the first crack.
The sophomore is the only healthy backstop on the roster as Arizona gets set to open the 2020 season on Friday at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe. Freshman Sharlize Palacios, once the projected starter, is nursing a broken thumb on her catching hand.
“Oh, I’m definitely excited,” Pacho said.
It will be a big test for the Tucsonan, who has only made one start behind the plate in her young UA career. This weekend alone Pacho could catch as many as five games in three days, a physical toll she insists she is prepared for, recalling the time she caught nine games in two days in her club career.
“Izzy in herself I think is a very competent catcher that has been catching for over a year now and knows our pitchers and knows what she needs to do,” Candrea said. “I think she’s swinging the bat well, so she brings a lot to the table. Maybe her arm strength isn’t quite there, but her quickness getting rid of the ball was there, so I think it’ll be a great opportunity for her to see what she does and great opportunity for us.”
What Pacho lacks in polish, she matches with persistence. Knowing the opportunity that lies ahead, she has been determined to hone her skills, working on things like not spinning her hips so much when she swings and scooting up a little closer to the plate so she can glove Alyssa Denham‘s drop-balls before they break too much.
She also asks questions. A lot of them.
“Izzy catches bullpens all the time, she’s been catching all the intersquads, and she really wants to learn,” said UA pitching coach Taryne Mowatt. “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.”
Pacho’s upside at the plate might not be at Mulipola’s level but it is intriguing in its own right. One of the best hitters to come out of Tucson in years, Pacho hit .552 with 30 homers, 38 doubles, and 149 RBI in 107 games at Ironwood Ridge High School.
As a senior, she walked 39 times and only struck out thrice. On the travel circuit, she was a PGF All-American for the Oro Valley Suncats.
It didn’t translate to her first year at the UA, which was as much of a learning experience as it was a struggle. Pacho hit just .195 in 41 at-bats, but gained a new appreciation for the game and what it takes to be successful at the collegiate level.
“The game’s faster,” Pacho said this fall. “In club ball, it was more of you had this big string. You could fail a million times and you’d still be in there. Where here, you fail once and you’re out. And that’s the fun in it. It’s so competitive and you’re surrounded by so many girls that are as good or better than you.”
And you have to be OK with that. Growing up, Pacho said her power was compared to Katiyana Mauga‘s. You know, the ex-UA third baseman who crushed 92 homers, the most in Wildcats history.
That, just like Mulipola’s catching, probably isn’t replicable. But Mulipola had some lasting advice for Pacho before she left to join Team USA—everyone who makes it to the collegiate level is here for a reason.
Friday, Pacho will get to show hers.
“I feel like everyone’s so different,” she said, “and I have my own talents and flaws that no one else has.”
Sophomore Izzy Pacho will start at catcher for Arizona Softball with Dejah Mulipola gone for the Olympics and Sharlize Palacios out with a broken fingerPosted by AZ Desert Swarm on Wednesday, February 5, 2020