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Freshman Allie Skaggs stepping up as Arizona softball’s new starting second baseman

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Photo by Ryan Kelapire

The plan was always for Allie Skaggs to be Arizona’s starting second baseman one day. It just wasn’t supposed to happen this soon.

With Reyna Carranco out for several weeks with a broken thumb, Skaggs and Hanah Bowen are tasked with manning the position until their All-American teammate heals up. It sounds unexpected but Skaggs says she was ready for it.

“She’s had the history of being injured, so I never took it out of mind,” Skaggs said. “I figured that I would definitely have to be ready if anything were to happen. And now that, unfortunately it did, I’m just glad I was mentally prepared.”

This opportunity is a dream come true for Skaggs and her parents. Both graduated from the UA. When Skaggs called them to inform them about Carranco’s injury, they were first saddened for Carranco, then excited for their daughter.

“I guarantee you my mom probably shed some tears,” said Skaggs, who committed to Arizona in October 2017. “I know that they’ve just been waiting so long to see me in the uniform. The first few games they were so excited to even just to see that I’m warming up in the outfield. And now that I’m actually playing and getting these at-bats and getting comfortable, I call them every day, they’re so excited, they’re super proud to see me playing at their [alma mater].”

Skaggs has started in six of the nine games Carranco has missed, hitting .267 with a homer, a double and three RBI. While only a freshman, Skaggs has earned her coaches’ trust.

“Allie works really hard,” Mike Candrea said. “And the thing that I’ve been really impressed with is just her ability to keep the game slow. She’s played with some confidence and some savvy and has had some really good at bats. I really feel comfortable right now with her. She’s doing what we need right now at this moment and she’s a good player.”

In some ways, Skaggs isn’t that different from Carranco. They provide substance over style at second base.

“Consistency,” Skaggs said. “Like, you’re not going to get the flashy plays out of me.”

In other ways, Skaggs and the stoic Carranco couldn’t be more different.

“If you’ve seen me play in person, I don’t really shut my mouth when I’m on the field,” Skaggs laughed. “I’m always looking around everywhere. I’m talking to my shortstops, my outfield, everything. I never shut up. And I think that makes the team around me comfortable.”

A top-20 recruit, Skaggs is used to hitting at the top of the order but typically bats eighth in Arizona’s long lineup. And while her goal is to get on base and set the table for the sluggers at the top, she is capable of much more.

In just three seasons at Ballard High School in Louisville, Skaggs set school records for batting average (.492), on-base percentage (.561), slugging percentage (.955), hits (220), home runs (41) and doubles (50). She was the Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year in 2018 and 2019 before finishing her high school career at Oro Valley’s Ironwood Ridge where she blasted five homers in just 10 games.

That bat speed was on display Saturday when Skaggs crushed her first collegiate homer against USF.

“She’s got deceivingly good power,” Candrea said. “She’s shown that the key for her is to get those at-bats and to be able to let the ball travel and come to her instead of being out in front of everything and rolling it over. And I think the more at bats she’s gotten, the better she’s become at making those adjustments from one at-bat to the next.”

Skaggs overcame some early-season jitters by reminding herself that “it’s just softball.”

“Against South Florida, I finally felt like my normal self,” she said. “I finally eased in and I didn’t have as many nerves as I did my first few at-bats,. I was kind of just zoned in and I saw the rest of the team producing around me and I was like, ‘okay, everyone else is doing their job and they believe in me’, and I feel that a lot with this team. They really do put us on their backs and you could just feel the love from all of them and I thought that was awesome. When I hit (the homer), oh my gosh, coming back into the dugout was probably the greatest feeling. Everyone was just giving hugs and high fives.”

Among those embracing Skaggs were seniors like Jessie Harper and Dejah Mulipola. Skaggs feels fortunate that she gets a year to learn from that star-studded class, which is only possible because they were granted an extra year of eligibility after the coronavirus pandemic canceled the 2020 season.

Aside from on-the-field tips, Skaggs’ biggest takeaway from that group is how hard they play and how they emphasize being a good teammate and creating a family-like atmosphere.

Mulipola said Skaggs is very coachable.

“Oh, that’s an understatement,” Candrea said. “I mean, she’s a sponge. She absorbs everything. She’s a very intelligent kid. And normally when you have someone that excels in the classroom, one of the areas that they’re really good at is being coachable and being able to disseminate information and be able to pick the information that works for you and helps you, and I think Allie is all ears. I think that’s one of the neatest things about this year was our freshmen could have sat back and said, ‘Oh God, the seniors are back, we’re not gonna be able to get a chance to play.’ But this freshman class was very excited to play with the senior class. And so I’ve really encouraged them to take the moment and learn as much as you can from these athletes because the one thing we can’t teach is experience.”

Skaggs’ class is expected to begin a new era of Arizona softball next season. The seniors will be gone and the team will be theirs. They got a preview of what that will look in the fall when they often scrimmaged against the seniors. Skaggs would scan the diamond and see Carlie Scupin at first base and the Carroll twins—Sophia and Aris—on the other side of the infield.

“You’re just kind of looking at it like, ‘wow, this is the future of Arizona softball,’” Skaggs said. “It’s pretty incredible to look at. Still, I can’t believe it that I’m out there with Dejah and Jessie and Mariah (Lopez) pitching, (Alyssa) Denham pitching. It’s incredible that I’ve been watching these girls for so long and that you finally get to you get to play with them and you didn’t expect to at all, and so it’s honestly incredible. But I am excited for the future. I think our class, especially with playing behind these older girls, will be ready definitely to come in whenever we need to.”

For Skaggs, that time is now.

“It’s huge,” Candrea said. “I think one of the things about our game is the key is to be ready when your opportunity comes. And so a lot of that is a compliment to her day-to-day process that she goes through. I mean, she’s a very hard worker. She has worked every day like she is a starter and therefore she was prepared when the time came that we needed her and she stepped in and has really been good. It’s an opportunity and it’s the experience that you can’t get in practice. So I’m very pleased and I’m very pleased the way she’s handled it.”