The same word was mentioned repeatedly by Arizona softball head coach Caitlin Lowe and sophomores Carlie Scupin and Jasmine Perezchica as they discussed their game plan heading into Pac-12 play. That word was “adjustments.” Whether it’s what they have already accomplished or what they will need to do against UCLA to be successful this week, making the necessary adjustments are key.
“I think, going into any series since it’s three games, it gives us the chance to see a team one day and then make the adjustments we need to make,” Scupin said. “And obviously we faced them last year so we kind of know what to expect.”
Scupin is one of the players who is already making adjustments this season. The sophomore is leading the Pac-12 with a .500 batting average and a 1.118 slugging percentage. She is second in both home runs (11) and RBI (38) while holding down first base, trailing Washington’s Baylee Klingler by one in each category. She is also tied for third with nine doubles, making her and Klingler the only two players in the top 10 for doubles who also have more than five home runs.
The move from high school and travel ball to one of the best conferences in college softball has been almost seamless for the Tucson High product.
While former head coach Mike Candrea has been raving about Scupin since she signed her letter of intent with Arizona, Lowe still thinks her infielder is ahead of schedule compared to other players.
“I knew she was going to be great for us offensively and defensively and I think you’re seeing the progression of her becoming a really mature hitter right now,” Lowe said. “I think she can make adjustments within at-bats, not just from an at-bat to at-bat or from game to game. So, she can really slow down her moment and realize what’s happening to her, what a pitcher is trying to do, and then make the reaction which is usually what you see from junior to senior year, you know, a little bit later on in your career. But she’s really just a mature hitter and a tireless worker, so she’s always going to be getting better.”
Things could get a little more difficult now, though. UCLA is ranked fifth in all four polls. The Bruins don’t just have one challenging pitcher that the Wildcats need to adjust to. They have three.
“They’re good on all sides of the ball, let me tell you,” Lowe said. “Pitching wise, obviously Megan Faraimo. And that’s the thing, I think a lot of people talk about her, but they have the whole complete staff that’s very dominant.”
The numbers back that up. Holly Azevedo is tied for the league lead in wins with 10 and is seventh in ERA with a 1.11. Just behind her in wins is Faraimo with nine. Teammate Lauren Shaw leads the Pac-12 in ERA with a 0.50.
As for other adjustments the Wildcats might have to make, things have been in flux in the outfield and at shortstop for the past two weeks. Centerfielder Janelle Meoño has been in a boot and will undergo a scan on Wednesday to see how her injury is progressing. Shortstop Sophia Carroll has been in concussion protocol.
In their places, Lowe has started multiple players. First, she moved Perezchica to centerfield for Meoño. This past weekend, however, Perezchica was back patrolling left field and utility player Giulia Koutsoyanopulos played center.
Koutsoyanopulos had a productive weekend in centerfield, playing solid defense and hitting 5 for 9 with a home run. So far this season, the sophomore who is better known for her glove is hitting .484. The only reason she is not near the top of the Pac-12 in average is that she doesn’t meet the minimum qualifications of at least 2.5 at-bats per game and playing in 75 percent of her team’s games.
Perezchica is still filling in for Meoño at the top of the order. After hitting just .188 last season with three singles to her name, the outfielder is fourth in the Pac-12 with a .479 average so far this year. She already has 34 hits heading into conference play.
Part of that growth comes from playing behind some very experienced players last season.
“I learned a lot,” Perezchica said. “I think they helped me grow as a person and helped me realize just work ethic. I think work ethic was the biggest thing. Coming to practice every day and giving your best.”
Lowe is pleased with the composure Perezchica has shown in Meoño’s absence, crediting much of it to the outfielder’s family background in Major League Baseball.
“I think it takes a lot of maturity to become leadoff hitter because now it’s not just about your at-bat, it’s kind of like setting the tone for the whole game and for our whole offense,” Lowe said. “So she’s very composed, she knows she can take a lot of pitches or she can go right at people. And I think those are great softball conversations we have all the time. She gets a pitch to hit, I want her to hit it, but she also comes from a background of understanding the game and understanding what she needs to give her teammates, too.”
At shortstop, Carroll was returning to team drills on Tuesday. While she has been out, Blaise Biringer and Amber Toven have both played the position. Biringer is hitting .289 this season but has gone just 1 for 7 during Carroll’s absence.
Toven, who came to Arizona with the reputation as a glove-first shortstop, did well in her first at-bats, albeit against lower-level competition. Previously, the freshman has only seen the offensive side of the game as a pinch runner.
Toven finally got to hit against Loyola Chicago on March 6 and went 1 for 3 with a two-RBI triple. She did not get a hit in her three at-bats against UNLV, but she went 3 for 4 in two games against Marist this past weekend. In limited at-bats, she has a .400 average.
Now, that lower-level competition is largely in the past. Arizona is one of three Pac-12 teams in the Top 10 of the USA Today/NFCA poll. Two more are in the Top 25 and an additional two are receiving votes. That means seven of the nine teams that play the sport are getting noticed by the coaches.
“Going into conference, we’re gonna be facing some better pitchers and better competition overall,” said Scupin. “I just want to keep doing what I’m doing and seeing the ball as well as I can.”
Being the best version of themselves is the goal of the entire team as they head to Westwood to take on the Bruins.
“You’re going to get their best offensively and defensively so it’s really coming down to can we really hammer down all aspects of our game and get the key hit and we need to make the big play,” Lowe said. “And hopefully, just play our game is what I really want out of this team because I think when we play our game we’re unstoppable.”