Former Wildcats Danielle O’Toole, Taylor McQuillin and Brigette Del Ponte were commemorated Saturday as they returned to Hillenbrand Stadium, but it was a Sun Devil who stole the show.
Sashel Palacios hit a game-winning solo homer in the seventh inning as Team Mexico beat Arizona 3-2 in an exhibition to wrap up the Bear Down Fiesta.
The former ASU catcher is the older sister of UA catcher Sharlize Palacios, who was behind the plate when Sashel crushed the first pitch she saw against Mariah Lopez off the batter’s eye in center field.
It capped an emotional day for the sisters, who competed on the same field for the first time ever. They hugged and snapped photos before and after the game. Sharlize tried to hold back tears.
“They’re two good players and it was fun to watch,” Arizona coach Mike Candrea said. “It was kind of a fitting ending when she hit the home run to win it. If you know anything about their family, their family is very close. And I just remember in the recruiting process Sashel said to me, ‘please take care of my sister.’ That meant a lot to me.”
O’Toole, McQuillin and Del Ponte all received their own tribute videos and a round of applause from a sparse crowd.
O’Toole started for Team Mexico and surrendered a two-run homer to Team USA member and former UA teammate Dejah Mulipola in the first inning.
It could be a preview of what’s to come at the Olympics this summer.
“She put up a great at-bat against Tooly, and that’s what Tooly needs and that’s what Dejah needs because that’s what you’re going to be facing,” Candrea said. “It was fun to watch.”
Mulipola caught O’Toole curing Arizona’s Pac-12 title run in 2017, but said she tried to approach the at-bat as if O’Toole was any other pitcher. Mulipola clobbered a 1-2 inside pitch to deep center.
“Whether it was Taylor or Tooly or any of the Mexico pitchers, I just wanted to be a little bit more aggressive, which is why I was hacking at the first pitch,” Mulipola said. “And then I saw her changeup pretty good too and I was behind (in the count) and I knew that she was going to come with her best stuff, so honestly I was just in attack mode that whole at-bat.”
The two teams exchanged pleasantries after the game and took a team photo, but Mulipola said she didn’t discuss the at-bat with O’Toole.
“Um, no, I didn’t know if I should have,” Mulipola laughed. “I’m sure I’ll text her later or she’ll text me and we’ll reach out to each other.”
O’Toole otherwise was spotless in three innings of work. McQuillin, her former UA teammate, relieved her to begin the fourth and tossed three no-hit innings.
Former Sun Devil Chelsea Gonzales and former Oklahoma Sooner Sydney Romero homered off UA freshman Devyn Netz to plate Team Mexico’s first two runs. Del Ponte, who started in left field, singled in the third inning.
It was a good opportunity to see how Arizona would respond against Olympic-level talent. Sixteen different players had at least one plate appearance and every pitcher except Jessie Fontes threw at least one inning.
Netz nearly sparked a comeback in the seventh by shooting a two-out double off the center field wall. However, Sierra Hyland fanned Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza to record the final out.
“First and foremost you try to put your best plan out there to win a ballgame, but I see these kids every day in practice and many of them continue to work hard and deserve opportunities so tonight was a great opportunity to the see what they would do,” Candrea said. “That Devyn Netz at-bat kind of sticks in your mind. She’s a competitor.”
After the game, Candrea spoke to Team Mexico for several minutes. He coached Team USA to gold and silver medals in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics and wanted to impart some wisdom on them before they head to Tokyo this summer.
“I was just talking about the Olympic experience, and when you get to that arena it’s different than any that you’ll ever be in,” he said. “I think to be successful there you have to really spend a lot of time number one of putting yourself under some stress in practice. And number two it becomes really a mental game more than anything. Everyone wants to point out their swing thoughts and mechanics, but it really doesn’t come down to that. It’s just a matter of making sure that your eyes are working well and mentally you’re working well, and that gives you the best chance of being successful. But it’s a great experience.”