Sunday should have marked the start of Arizona softball’s run to the Women’s College World Series. Instead, the Wildcats were at home for Selection Sunday after the 2020 season was cut short by the coronavirus crisis.
The Wildcats were 22-3 and the No. 4 team in the country before the season was canceled and we can still reward them for their hard work in a different way: by handing out some end-of-season awards.
Offensive player of the year — Jessie Harper
This was an easy selection. The senior shortstop led Arizona in homers (10), RBI (29) and batting average (.395). She also lowered her strikeout rate, fanning just six times in 90 plate appearances. Harper would have needed 19 homers in the second half of the season to tie Lauren Chamberlain’s all-time record (95). Now she will have the entire 2021 season to reach that milestone.
Defensive player of the year — Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza
In what might be the craziest stat Arizona softball has to offer, Palomino-Cardoza has still not made an error in the hundreds of innings she has patrolled center field for the Wildcats, often accompanying her mistake-free game with highlight-reel catches.
Of course, we have to mention that APC continued to be stellar at the plate too, hitting .375 with seven homers, seven doubles, 26 RBI and a team-high 20 walks. There’s a reason she was a first-team All-American.
Pitcher of the year — Mariah Lopez
Lopez and fellow senior Alyssa Denham accounted for more than 90 percent of Arizona’s innings in 2020. And though Denham logged nine more than Lopez, Lopez was the more effective pitcher. The Oklahoma transfer compiled a 1.38 ERA with 93 strikeouts in 71 innings.
The hard-throwing right-hander finished the season 11-2 and was the winning pitcher in the big victories over Alabama and Missouri. Both Lopez and Denham will be back in 2021, giving the Wildcats one of the best 1-2 punches in the country.
Freshman of the year — Sharlize Palacios
This was a close call between catcher Sharlize Palacios and speedy outfielder Bella Dayton, who hit .302 with a homer and a team-high 10 stolen bases.
But Palacios gets the nod because she hit .324 with a homer and seven RBI despite battling a broken thumb that she suffered just before the start of the season. It’s possible we didn’t even see Palacios at her best, and yet she more than held her own in the batter’s box and didn’t look like a freshman behind the plate.
Palacios is in an interesting situation heading into 2021 now that Dejah Mulipola is returning.
Most improved player — Marissa Schuld
After only amassing four at-bats as a freshman, Schuld really stepped it up as a sophomore, hitting .350 as Arizona’s primary designated player. The 5-foot-3 slugger showed a considerable amount of pop too, blasting two homers and a double. She was also consistent, tallying at least one hit in the first nine games she appeared in.
However, Schuld’s Arizona softball career is over, as she announced in April that she has entered the transfer portal.
Bench player of the year — Hanah Bowen
Bowen started in only 11 of 25 games, but usually delivered when called upon. The junior set career highs in batting average (.346), on-base percentage (.457), slugging percentage (.500), doubles (4), RBI (7), stolen bases (1) and walks (7) despite the shortened season.
Bowen is Arizona’s most versatile player too, making starts at first, designated player and pitcher while hitting in four different spots in the batting order—fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth. In 2019, Bowen filled in for star second baseman Reyna Carranco when she broke her hand late in the season.
Best game(s) of the year — The road wins at Alabama
Arizona first road test came on Feb. 28 and 29 when the Wildcats swept two games against No. 12 Alabama. Both were packed with drama.
In the first game, Palomino-Cardoza laced an RBI single in the seventh to lead Arizona to a 2-1 win. In the second game, Arizona coughed up a 3-2 lead in the sixth but a two-out rally in the seventh allowed them to overcome a 5-3 deficit.
Palacios and Schuld singled, setting the table for Malia Martinez, who deposited the first pitch she saw over the centerfield fence for a game-winning three-run homer.
The pair of victories were revenge after the Crimson Tide eliminated the Wildcats from the 2019 Women’s College World Series.