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Arizona softball notebook: On Mariah Lopez’s niche, Sharlize Palacios’ injury and more

Malia Martinez and Mariah Lopez
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Mariah Lopez is playing the best softball of her career and she knows why.

“I have finally found my niche and I’m really happy with where I’m at,” she said. “Regardless of the wins or losses, it’s just a really fun environment. And I feel like I’m finally flourished.”

It’s not that Lopez wasn’t happy at Oklahoma, it’s just that she, as she said, is “really happy” at Arizona where she has made a smooth transition into the circle.

“In fact a seamless one,” Arizona coach Mike Candrea said. “And I think a lot of it was because she’s played with a lot of these kids, and I’m just really happy where she’s at right now. She’s feeling good about herself, I think very confident, has done everything that we’ve asked her to do, and we’re just glad she’s here at Arizona.”

The OU transfer is currently 10-2 with a career-best 1.22 ERA, striking out 11.9 batters per nine innings and holding them to a .174 average. Lopez and Alyssa Denham have combined to post a 1.72 ERA, forming one of the top duos in the country.

“I think that we just both figured out that we need each other,” Lopez said. “It’s kind of nice when everyone gets on the same page with that because you can work really well and win some pretty big games.”

Like last weekend, when Lopez was the winning pitcher in Arizona’s road victories at Alabama. She only surrendered one run in a complete-game effort on Friday, then picked up a win in relief on Saturday. A few days later, she was named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week.

“She’s really stepped up for us and she’s really made a real mark here at Arizona,” said fellow senior Jessie Harper. “I was just so proud to see her go out there and really hold it down against Alabama. That was a great weekend for her and a great weekend for our team.”

Lopez played travel ball with Reyna Carranco, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, Hanah Bowen and Malia Martinez, and crossed paths with darn near everyone else on Arizona’s roster at some point before joining forces with them, so her early success has not surprised her new teammates—or really anyone in the softball world.

“I pretty much knew what I was gonna get coming into it,” Harper said.

Lopez has always been capable of pitching like this, she just didn’t always have the chance to show it. The hard-throwing righty has already amassed 63 innings with the Wildcats, putting her on pace to shatter her previous career-high of 117.2 that she set last season with the Sooners, a fairly small workload considering she was 19-2 with a 1.25 ERA.

And while Lopez isn’t Arizona’s ace in a traditional sense—Denham has actually pitched four more innings than her—the Wildcats have started her against elite teams like Alabama and Florida and used her in relief in some extremely dicey situations, trusting that she can work out of them.

More often than not, she has.

That is dissimilar to her role at Oklahoma where Lopez was a Day 2 starter and continually recruited over. Call it the difference between being happy and being really happy.

“I just needed a new chapter to start in my life,” Lopez said, “and it’s been a pretty good one so far.”

Palacios day-to-day with neck injury

There is no timetable for Sharlize Palacios to return to action, Candrea calling the freshman catcher day-to-day after she suffered a scary neck/head injury in a collision in Alabama last Sunday. The good news, he said, is it isn’t as bad as it could have been.

“But it’s gonna take some time because she’s very, very sore,” Candrea said.

A shame because Palacios had been playing really well before that, hitting .324 with a homer, seven RBI, and five walks.

Sophomore Izzy Pacho will start behind the plate in the meantime. She stepped up immensely when Palacios exited Sunday’s game vs. Texas-Arlington, going 2 for 3 with three RBI.

Arizona showed grit in Alabama

Candrea wanted to see how his team would fare in a hostile environment and it “passed with flying colors” by going 5-0 in Tuscaloosa, including a pair of gutsy wins over No. 8 Alabama that bode well for the team’s future.

“What we wanted out of that weekend, we kind of got out of it,” he said. “You know, the clutch performances when we were down, the two-out base hits, and then a home run. Just really liked the way we competed.”

The home run he is referring to is Malia Martinez’s three-run blast against Alabama on Saturday that gave the Wildcats the lead in the seventh when they were down to their final out.

Funny thing is Martinez was in a pretty bad slump before that at-bat. Fortunately, those things don’t really affect her.

“Malia is a smart kid, she’s steady, she doesn’t get too high then get too low,” Candrea said. “She sticks with the process, she’s not a kid that looks too far down the road or worries about what happens in the past. I think she’s really good at being where feet are every day. And I think sometimes that pays dividends because one of the things in this game is you have to have short term memory. It’s a game of averages and so if it’s a game of averages, then you’re going to have those moments where things aren’t quite going your way. But you hope as a team that there’s always someone there to pick it up.”

Many times that has been Martinez, a master in the clutch. Other big hits she’s had this season: the game-winning RBI double vs. Seattle and the game-winning three-run homer vs. Northern Iowa.

So when she came up in a big spot against Alabama, it was “totally the right person to do it at the right time,” Harper said.

“I literally was just sitting there and I was like, ‘there’s no better person to have this opportunity,’” Lopez agreed.

Harper’s homers

Harper launched two homers in Alabama, giving the senior shortstop seven on the season and 73 for her career, just 19 shy of Katiyana Mauga’s school record.

“I’m thinking more about it because people are asking,” Harper joked. “All I really care about is winning at this point. I want to win with the team, go out and have quality at-bats and just play our game here. Forget the home run record. I just want to make it to the World Series and play the last game. That’s how I’d like to end my career.”

Up next

No. 4 Arizona (17-3) opens the Wildcat Invitational on Friday. The full schedule is below. All games will be streamed on Arizona Live Stream-2. It is a pretty weak field, with 12-8 Boise State probably being the best non-Arizona team.

Friday, March 6

  • vs. South Dakota, 5:30 p.m. MT

Saturday, March 7

  • vs. Boise State, 2 p.m. MT
  • vs. Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, 4:30 p.m. MT

Sunday, March 8

  • vs. Indiana, 11:15 a.m. MT

Interviews from practice

Mike Candrea

Here’s Mike Candrea on Arizona Softball’s successful trip to Alabama, Sharlize Palacios’ injury, why he still loves to coach, and more

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Mariah Lopez

Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week Mariah Lopez says she has found her “niche” with Arizona Softball

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Jessie Harper

Senior shortstop Jessie Harper reflects on Arizona Softball’s undefeated weekend in Alabama and some other topics

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Tuesday, March 3, 2020