If there’s a silver lining to Reyna Carranco’s injury, it’s that Arizona softball found a new leadoff hitter. For this season and maybe the next three.
When Carranco, the No. 2 hitter, broke her thumb, Mike Candrea dropped the power-hitting Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza from the leadoff spot to the middle of the order to lengthen the lineup. He then bumped redshirt freshman slapper Janelle Meoño from the No. 9 spot to the leadoff spot.
She’s taken that role and run with it. Meoño enters the Stanford series as the Pac-12 batting leader, sporting a .471 average in 51 at-bats.
“I think she’s pretty much solidified herself in the one spot, so that’s not something that I worry about when I go to bed at night,” Candrea said. “She’s performed and she’s been on base. And if you look at the stats, she’s got the highest on-base percentage. So why wouldn’t you put her in the leadoff spot?”
Consistency is crucial for any table-setter and Meoño is currently riding a nine-game hitting streak. She’s also had at least one hit in 17 of the 18 games she’s started.
Even when Arizona went cold on the road, Meoño stayed hot. She had three hits in two games against Washington (the other school she was strongly considering out of high school) and at least one hit in all three games at Florida State.
“She keeps it simple,” Palomino-Cardoza said. “She doesn’t let the game get too big and she knows that she needs to go deep into the count to kind of help us see what she’s pitching, what the pitch is going to do in our bat and she does a job well of bouncing the ball, getting a bunt down, getting a line-drive triple. She can do it all when she’s up there.”
Meoño, who starts in left field, said the transition to the leadoff spot has been pretty seamless. She used to have that role in travel ball, so she’s comfortable with it. She just tries to get on base or, at the very least, see as many pitches as she can.
“So that even if I don’t get on, I can tell my teammates like, ‘hey, she’s throwing here with two strikes’ or ‘expect this,’ and stuff like that,” Meoño said.
Palomino-Cardoza said she has seen a new maturity level from Meoño, who’s also expected to replace APC in center field next season.
“I just feel like my at-bats have been really good because I’ve been able to slow the pitchers down and see the ball all the way through,” Meoño agreed. “I think that’s just really helped me and my game.”
The numbers bear that out. Meoño only hit .205 in 44 at-bats in the abbreviated 2020 season. She’s also boosted her walk rate and cut down her strikeout rate since then.
“The thing about Janelle is she’s got very good hand-eye coordination and so she can put the bat on the ball,” Candrea said. “And I think the one thing I’ve been impressed with is that she’s eliminated a lot of the strikeouts she had when she was young. She’s been able to, even though she’s a slapper, hit the ball hard when she needs to. But she’s a tough out, a tough one to face because she can do so many things.”
And when Meoño reaches base? She creates a lot of havoc. She has a team-high eight stolen bases.
“Getting her on base is huge,” Candrea said. “And I think Bella (Dayton) really stepped up this weekend in the ninth spot. And being able to get those two on base, there’s a lot of things you can do.”