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Excited to be back, Reyna Carranco’s return from ‘bizarre’ injury has Arizona softball hitting on all cylinders

Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

Senior second baseman Reyna Carranco has missed extensive time in three different seasons because of broken bones and bad luck.

She took a pitch to the face in 2018, then pitch to the hand in 2019. This February, she broke her thumb swinging at soft toss in the batting cage. Carranco has a hard time explaining exactly how it happened.

“It was just really random,” she said. “It was just bizarre.”

Carranco isn’t one to show emotion, but she was frustrated when she learned she was going to be sidelined for over a month. That feels like forever during the season. Especially her last season.

She was also concerned about undergoing surgery. Her previous finger fracture didn’t require it.

But Carranco did what she has done every other time she’s gotten injured at Arizona: she reminded herself that she can’t control what happens to her, only how she responds to it.

So, she immediately went to work helping her replacements—Allie Skaggs and Hanah Bowen.

“I was pretty hurt at the beginning, but then after that I just really embraced being there for my teammates,” Carranco said. “They’re such great players, I wanted to make sure that they just were reminded of the things that were important, like certain plays or certain situations. And I just want to remind them that they’re great, they’re made for this, that they’re so good in this situation. I was just really trying to be their biggest fan.”

Skaggs and Bowen had their moments but the Wildcats missed Carranco. They could have especially used her in those road losses at UCF, Florida State and Washington where runs were at a premium. She is a career .363 hitter and a steady infielder.

Head coach Mike Candrea said in late March, about a month after Carranco’s injury, that he expected her to return to the lineup by the end of April. As usual, she returned on the early side of that timetable.

Carranco made a pinch hit appearance against New Mexico State on Friday, then got a start on Saturday, much to the delight of the home crowd.

“To me, a month feels like forever, so I was just so excited to get back out there with my teammates, and I just felt their excitement vibrating off of me,” Carranco said.

Carranco has been able to throw for a few weeks now with her thumb carefully wrapped. Fielding grounders and swinging the bat was the trickier part. Before she could play in a game, she needed to prove that her thumb could handle the pressure.

She practiced fully last week for the first time since her injury and it was quickly clear that she was ready to roll.

“When I tell you that it didn’t look like she missed a day, I mean that,” shortstop Jessie Harper said. “Reyna is so amazing. She went out there for ground balls, looked perfect, absolutely flawless.”

No one is surprised. This is the same person who only missed five games in 2018 after a 70 MPH pitch sent her to the hospital with a fractured nose, bloodied face and serious concussion.

“If you know Reyna, nothing bothers her,” Candrea said. “Reyna is a lady of a few words. I mean, she doesn’t say much, she just comes out and she competes and that’s the way she has been her entire career. And so I really believe that she doesn’t get emotional to a point where she’s worried so much about it. I think she stays positive and she’s been a quick healer. I mean, from what she’s gone through right now, I’ve been amazed how quickly she rebounds. To me, that’s her mindset more than anything.”

Carranco returned at an ideal time. She was able to make four plate appearances against New Mexico State, helping her find her groove in time for this weekend’s big series at ASU.

She has Wednesday’s doubleheader vs. GCU to tune up her swing too, though she’s already feeling pretty good about it.

“I’m really grateful for the opportunities I had because now I feel real comfortable, I feel like I’m back in it, ready to go,” she said. “I feel like it really was good for me to see the ball and get comfortable again.”

Carranco singled and drew a walk in her four plate appearances. Even her outs were line drives.

“I was very pleased with what I saw,” Candrea said. “I think she will benefit from some more at bats, but Reyna is a good ballplayer and she’s got one of the simplest swings. The thing about her if you know anything about her, she gets on plane as well as anyone. And so it’s all about timing right now more than anything—and pitch selection. And I thought she looked good. Defensively she’ll get stronger and better with more ground balls she takes and more practices she gets under her belt. So I’m very, very excited.”

Carranco hit in her usual No. 2 spot when she returned to the starting lineup on Saturday. What’s different is that Janelle Meoño is hitting ahead of her now. The speedy slapper was bumped from ninth to the leadoff spot when Carranco got injured and has been a spark plug up there, batting .466 with a 15-game hitting streak.

Those two anchoring the top of the lineup is Candrea’s best-case scenario.

“It gives us a lot of different things that we can do with Reyna’s ability to bunt and short game and hit away,” he said.

It also lengthens Arizona’s lineup to an enviable extent. All-American center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza was the leadoff hitter to start the season and hit second during Carranco’s absence. Now she bats sixth.

Malia Martinez—an all-conference third baseman who once hit 14 homers in a season—was slid down to eighth. She immediately reaped the benefits by driving in six runs in Saturday’s run-rule win over New Mexico State.

It might be a sneak peek of what’s to come for Arizona’s offense in the second half of the season.

“[Malia] was just really clutch and then Janelle has just been such a good leadoff hitter,” Candrea said. “I mean, I think she was 6 for 6. It’s phenomenal what she’s doing right now. And if we can keep her hot and keep her on base, and then get Harper and Dejah (Mulipola) and (Sharlize) Palacios all swinging the bat, they can be a scary lineup. So I feel good about what we have right now. We just have to go out and execute the game.”