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Arizona softball signs class of five that is ‘heavy on pitching’ for 2023

Arizona softball just wrapped up the 2022 fall season. Who will join them next fall?
Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

Pitching, pitching, and more pitching. That’s the main story of Caitlin Lowe’s first class in her head coaching career. Arizona softball signed a class of five on Wednesday, three of whom are pitchers.

“We have a really strong pitching class, that’s for sure,” Lowe said. “Heavy on pitching. Two lefties that I’m really excited about because we haven’t had a lefty in a while. A whole different look.”

Those two lefties are Ryan Maddox and Aissa Silva, both of whom made their names in travel ball with teams in Southern California although neither of them is from there.

Maddox is from the Central Valley of California. She plays high school ball for Clovis North High School in Fresno, but she competes in travel ball for the well-known OC Batbusters - Stith team that has produced so much Division I talent over the years.

While Lowe was technically the coach when the 2022 class signed their letters of intent, that group had committed to play for former Wildcats head coach Mike Candrea. Maddox became the first commit of the post-Candrea era when she gave her verbal to Lowe and her staff in the fall of 2021.

Being the first to embark on the journey with Lowe from start to finish wasn’t a concern for Maddox.

“I know [Lowe has] assisted him for quite a while,” Maddox said shortly after she committed. “And I know that she’s been a great player and a great coach and I’ve heard nothing bad about her. So I think it’s pretty cool that I’m the first one.”

That Maddox has a great deal of experience in highly-competitive situations is important to Lowe.

“She plays on a very strong travel ball team,” Lowe said. “They’re contending for tournament championships. And she was the winner of one of the biggest tournaments this summer which was great to see her kind of get hit a little bit and then fight through that and end up at the top at the very end.”

That tournament was the Alliance Fastpitch Championship Series. The Batbusters fell into the loser’s bracket, but Maddox and her future Arizona teammate Regan Shockey helped their current team climb back out. They faced SoCal Athletics Mercado, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, and defeated them on the way to the title series.

Maddox has a career ERA of 0.67 in three years at North Clovis High. She has gone 41-4 in 47 appearances. She has 491 strikeouts in 293 innings pitched.

That’s not what really attracts the coaches, though. Maddox describes herself as a “finesse pitcher,” and Lowe agrees with that.

“I recruit pitchers from a hitting standpoint and [pitching coach] Taryne [Mowatt-McKinney] recruits from a pitching standpoint,” Lowe said. “I want someone who when I look at top hitters, she makes them uncomfortable. There’s not a lot of things that they can square up, I’m not always going to be on time, those types of things. So she just knows how to read hitters. When Hanah Bowen was on, she was very much like that. I’m not just throwing the sign that I get from the catcher, but I’m reading the game and the feel of what a hitter is doing and I know that I have to throw it a little bit higher than their barrel here and I have to get their barrel just a little bit ahead of this pitch. It’s something I’m seeing Devyn [Netz] do now, but it usually develops and I’m seeing her do it at the high school level, which is really cool.”

The other lefty on her way to campus has already landed in Tucson for the second time. Aissa Silva was born in Sierra Vista and grew up in Tucson. In middle school, she moved to the Sacramento area and made a name for herself at Elk Grove High.

Silva set a program record with 390 strikeouts last season. In her time at Elk Grove, she struck out 552 batters in 310.2 IP. She went 35-9 in 54 appearances.

Although Arizona was always her dream school, Silva committed relatively late in the process. She was the last of the three pitchers to announce her commitment, putting the message out on social media in late July.

“It was more stressful than I thought,” Silva said. “It wasn’t as fun as I truly thought it was going to be. But at the end of the day, I got where I wanted to be. I took my time. I really didn’t rush into anything, and it really paid off with being able to get where I want to.”

As for why it might have been stressful, Lowe said that there are some players the coaches bring to campus as soon as they can after Sept. 1 of the players’ junior years. That’s when schools are finally able to contact players under the current recruiting rules. With other players, the coaches talk to the players and tell them that they will be watching their development. Silva was one of the latter.

“All she did was get better,” Lowe said. “That actually happened with Regan Shockey too. We didn’t recruit her until later in the fall and it was because we didn’t necessarily need the outfielder. But she went about her business offensively and I was like, ‘We have to have her. We just have to have her!’ So I think when you show out that way in travel ball then you know—and not only show out that way in travel ball, but you want to be a Wildcat so bad. It makes that decision really easy because we want people that are diehard Arizona people, and [Silva] grew up coming to the games and got a feeling, and she was all smiles when she came on campus. And it was different because we saw a different lefty. She brought something special that was different to the table. So I think she’s going to add just a ton to our pitching staff.”

Lowe is also pleased that all three of the pitchers are good offensive players. Arizona has not allowed a pitcher to hit regularly in many years. Netz has shown that she’s more than capable when given a chance in fall ball and a few regular season games, but the staff has preferred that she focus just on pitching when she’s in the circle. They might have some battles with the incoming class.

“I know they’re all going to come in and contend for offensive positions,” Lowe said.

The third pitcher is especially unique in several ways with her secondary position being just one of them. Brooke Mannon plays centerfield when she isn’t in the circle. She’s also from a part of the country where the Wildcats rarely venture for recruits—the Midwest.

“We had kind of a cool connection finding out about her,” Lowe said. “Her dad was friends with one of our track coaches and he was just like, ‘You gotta go see her.’ And so we did and we invited her to camp and loved her. Complete opposite of Ryan because she’s 5-11. Tall and has so much room to get stronger, which is cool. Down ball. Great offspeed.”

One of the words both Lowe and her new pitchers used to describe their approach to the game was “competitive.” Lowe also likes the variety they offer. While the program is bringing in two lefties, she notes that they have different spins.

“Pitching-wise, I feel like we just added so much depth and a lot of different looks to the bullpen which is really cool to see,” Lowe said. “And I just feel like that’s the way college softball is trending anyway, just providing different looks for great hitting teams.”

Pitching was the obvious need for the Wildcats. Going back to 2019, Arizona has not brought more than two freshman pitchers in for any one class. In 2020, they didn’t have any freshmen pitchers; the only incoming pitcher was a transfer. With the uptick in transfers around college sports, they have also lost their share of pitchers transferring out of the program. The combination of fewer incoming freshmen pitchers and more transfers out means the Wildcats have had to chase the transfer portal more often than they would probably like.

Transfers have worked in some cases. Danielle O’Toole led a strong Arizona bullpen for several years. Alyssa Denham was a transfer who stayed with the program for four years and had some success. However, most transfer pitchers have been around for only a year or so and have not had the kind of impact that Denham and O’Toole had.

The Wildcats got the pitching depth they wanted this year. That didn’t keep them from going after a position player or two, though.

Shockey was the player that Lowe had to have despite not really needing more outfielders. However, Shockey isn’t just an outfielder. She is able to play several infield positions, as well. As an offensive player, Lowe likens her to current outfielder Jasmine Perezchica, but she also has the advantage of being a true utility player.

“When I first watched her, she was a shortstop, then she was a centerfielder, and now she’s at first base,” Lowe said. “She can kind of do it all. But mostly just hits for a high average, has great touch at the plate. Things that you kind of work on to perfect, she’s coming in with a pretty good tool set already. So that’s exciting. She’s gonna love our ground here. She loves to bounce the ball and steal bases and all the table-setter type stuff.”

It looked like her first real class was ready to be signed, sealed, and delivered after Silva committed. Lowe wasn’t done looking, though.

Zaedi Tagalog is yet another outfielder, a position that Lowe said they didn’t really need. She’s also another local kid who convinced the Arizona coach that she really was someone the Wildcats needed.

“Zaedi we found last week,” Lowe said. “[Canyon del Oro High School coach Kelly Fowler] and Kenzie [Fowler] told me about her and I went and watched her practice and was really impressed with her, just meeting her honestly. When you meet someone and it happens that fast, you want to make sure that you’re getting a good person and obviously, I take their recommendations very strongly, but I just was very impressed with her as a player, as a person, and I think she’s gonna add some much-needed depth to the roster with a little bit of speed and what she can do with a bat offensively.”

Tagalog has a career batting average of .491 for Canyon del Oro on Tucson’s northwest side. Last season, she hit .516 and had 10 stolen bases in 35 games.