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Handing out awards for the 2021 Arizona softball season

Sharlize Palacios
Photo courtesy NCAA

OKLAHOMA CITY — Arizona softball’s season ended at the Women’s College World Series on Saturday with a loss to Florida State.

The Wildcats finished the 2021 campaign with a 41-15 record including a 12-10 mark in Pac-12 games. As Mike Candrea ponders his future, let’s hand out some end-of-season awards.

Offensive player of the year — Dejah Mulipola

A year with the U.S. Olympic Team clearly helped Mulipola mature at the plate. The redshirt senior posted career—and team—highs in batting average (.385), RBI (61) and on-base percentage (.524). She also clubbed 21 homers, two off her career high.

Let’s not forget that teams only stole 10 bases on 16 attempts against Arizona because of Mulipola’s defensive prowess behind the plate. I mean, look at this footwork:

Defensive player of the year — Janelle Meoño

The Pac-12 batting champ seemed to have unlimited range in left field. She robbed two homers and made several diving catches. Meoño will be a worthy successor to Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza in center field.

Pitcher of the year — Hanah Bowen

The junior entered the season as Arizona’s No. 3 pitcher but, by the end of it, became as reliable as anyone. Bowen was 10-4 with a 2.06 ERA in 102 innings, 30 more than she had pitched in her first three seasons at Arizona combined.

Bowen pitches with competitive fire, unafraid to challenge hitters. She throws in the mid-to-upper 60s, works on all four planes and generally has good command of her pitches, only walking 21 batters.

Alyssa Denham and Mariah Lopez are graduating, so Bowen enters the offseason as Arizona’s ace.

Top newcomer — Carlie Scupin

The freshman from Tucson made the All-Pac-12 Freshman Team after hitting .343 with nine homers and 38 RBI while starting almost every game at first base. She displayed incredible power when she joined exclusive company by launching a homer onto Gittings Gym in a win over Cal. Candrea said Scupin has some of the best bat speed he has ever seen. Once she can start incorporating more of her lower body into her swing, “she can be very scary,” he said.

Most improved player(s) — Janelle Meoño and Sharlize Palacios

Meoño hit .205 in the shortened 2020 season, her first as a Wildcat. A year later, she was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, an All-American and the Pac-12 batting champion after hitting .442 in the regular season. Meoño is incredibly quick and has great hand-eye coordination. She can slap or swing away and good things always seem to happen when she puts the ball in play. She should be Arizona’s leadoff hitter and starting centerfielder for the next three seasons.

Palacios’ 2020 season was characterized by injuries but she stayed healthy in 2021 and showed she will be a worthy successor to Mulipola behind the plate. The redshirt freshman hit .348 with 18 homer and 57 RBI, the second-most on the team. That was after she hit .324 with one homer in 13 games in 2020. She was hospitalized with a concussion before the coronavirus pandemic cancelled the season.

Most versatile player — Giulia Koutsoyanopulos

Koutsoyanopulos made the most of every opportunity she got, which, this season, usually came as a pinch runner or defensive replacement for Scupin late in games.

Koutsoyanopulos, or G as they call her, went 5 for 5 on stolen bases and scored 13 runs despite only having 13 at-bats. Koutsoyanopulos is as respected for her glove as her speed. Candrea said she’s one of the best defensive first basemen he’s ever coached. Here are two examples why;

Best bench player — Allie Skaggs

Skaggs stepped in at second base when Reyna Carranco missed more than a month with a broken hand. For the season, Skaggs hit .255 with five homers and 11 RBI in just 55 at-bats. Skaggs’ biggest moment came at Oregon when she blasted a pinch-hit, two-run homer to lift Arizona to a win at Oregon.

The freshman also came off the bench and recorded an RBI single against UCLA the following weekend. Skaggs can play the infield and outfield, but seems positioned to replace the departing Carranco at second base next season.

Game of the year — The Tucson Regional final vs. Ole Miss

Arizona trailed 6-0 before exploding for 12 answered runs to beat Ole Miss and punch their ticket to the Fayetteville Super Regional, where they continued their hot hitting in a two-game sweep over Arkansas to clinch a berth in the Women’s College World Series.

The win over Ole Miss was also one of just three games in which Hillenbrand Stadium was at full capacity. It may have been Candrea’s last home game too. It ended with him getting the game ball and a big hug from Jessie Harper, who caught a line drive for the final out.

Play of the year — Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza’s game-winning homer at Arkansas

Down 1-0 in the second game of the Fayetteville Super Regional, Palomino-Cardoza lifted a two-run homer to left to help send the Wildcats to the Women’s College World Series.

Best milestone — Jessie Harper

Two of the top three home run hitters in NCAA history are now Arizona Wildcats thanks to Jessie Harper.

The senior belted 16 home runs in 2021 to give her 92 for her career, tying Katiyana Mauga for the most in Arizona history and second-most in NCAA history, three behind Lauren Chamberlain.

Harper’s record-tying blast came in the Women’s College World Series against Alabama ace Montana Fouts, arguably the best pitcher in the country.