When you lose seven seniors who have been with the program for as long as six years, there are bound to be bumps in the road the next season. Arizona softball has definitely gone over those bumps, but the Wildcats are emerging out the other side as the regular season winds down. They head out on their final road trip on an 11-2 winning streak stretching back almost a month.
It’s been a learning experience for all of them.
Redshirt junior Izzy Pacho didn’t get a lot of playing time during her first three years as a Wildcat. The hometown girl never hit over .250 prior to this year. Last season, she hit just .143 getting a few at-bats here and there as a pinch hitter. She appeared in just eight games and started none, both career lows. The opportunities were still sweet, even if they were difficult.
“I think one of the hardest things in our sport to do is to pinch hit,” Pacho said. “You’re expected to fail because you haven’t seen live pitching in three weeks or whatever it is, but it’s definitely hard to do. And it’s teammates, coaches, the game itself that keeps you in it because you know you’re gonna get another opportunity at some point, and at the end of the day, it’s just a game. So when you step in and you just kind of want to have fun and take advantage of those opportunities.”
This season Pacho took over as the starter at third base. While catching is still in her heart, being out there every day has made all the difference offensively. She has seized those opportunities, raising her batting average to .396 and hitting eight home runs, but she’s still drawing on the old days of pinch hitting and spot starts.
“Everything that I’ve experienced up to this moment I feel like has prepared me for it,” Pacho said. “And then getting more opportunities and learning from those opportunities and actually working on it after, I think has really helped me just stay calm and trust...the work that I’ve put in during the week.”
Paige Dimler started her career at Arizona much like Pacho did. A few games as a designated player. Maybe a pinch hit here or there. As the season went on, the freshman earned her way into the starting right-field position by working on her defense.
“She’s been putting in crazy work defensively and taking live reads off the bat and getting better and better,” said Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe.
That work has enabled her to stay on the field, which Dimler is enjoying.
“Being the DP, I’m just grateful to be in the lineup,” Dimler said. “Being one of the nine in the lineup is amazing no matter what, but being able to be in the field and be a contributor not only at the plate but on the field is amazing. So I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be out there with my team.”
Whether it’s as the DP or as the starting right fielder, Dimler is making her mark in the Pac-12. Her batting average sits at .349. She hit four home runs in four games last week, giving her 10 on the season. It was enough to get the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week nod this week.
“I saw it on Instagram and it honestly brought tears to my eyes because I was like I’ve been working so hard and waiting for these moments to see that my hard work has paid off,” Dimler said. “And it’s not even like just the freshman of the week thing. I feel like all my hard work is kind of finally getting put in place, like the puzzle pieces are falling together.”
Having the puzzle pieces continue falling in place is important if Arizona hopes to keep its streak of going to the postseason alive. From freshmen to fifth-year seniors, that seems to be happening for many of the Wildcats lately.
Right-handed pitcher Hanah Bowen set a personal best with 11 strikeouts against Fresno State last week. Allie Skaggs earned her second straight Pac-12 Player of the Week honor after climbing within one of the conference home run lead.
The Wildcats need to keep it up as they finish up the Pac-12 season. The California Golden Bears are up next.
“They’re standing in our way of going to the postseason,” Sharlize Palacios said after the team beat Fresno State on April 30. “I think that’s how we have to look at it. Not in a bad way, but we need to get past them. No one’s gonna give us a game, but we need to go through them.”
Arizona Wildcats (31-16, 6-12 Pac-12) @ California Golden Bears (26-23-1, 6-12 Pac-12)
When and Where: The three-game series starts on Friday, May 6 at 3 p.m. MST/PDT at Levine-Fricke Field in Berkeley, Calif. Game two is on Saturday, May 7 at 1 p.m. and game three is Sunday, May 8 at 11 a.m.
TV/Streaming: The games will not be aired on television. All three will be streamed on Cal Live Stream 5 for free.
Rankings and RPI: Arizona is ranked No. 25 in the USA Today/NFCA poll. The Wildcats are also receiving votes in the ESPN/USA Softball poll. They are No. 37 in the RPI.
Cal is not ranked in any of the polls. The Golden Bears are No. 52 in the RPI.
Standings: By winning percentage, Arizona is tied with Oregon State, California, and Utah at 33 percent. However, the Beavers have played three more games than the other three teams, so they are in sixth. Arizona won its series against Utah but sports the same record as the Utes. The Wildcats can move ahead of the Golden Bears by taking the series this weekend.