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What does Arizona softball need from the transfer portal?

NCAA Division 1 Women’s College World Series - Game 14 - Florida State v Alabama Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Now that the dust has settled on the season, Arizona softball seems to be on solid ground with its core group. The entire starting lineup is slated to return next season with the known portal entrants leaving the program all being reserves. The Wildcats are also set to welcome Extra Inning Softball’s No. 6 class. What holes does that leave on the roster?

The biggest need is pitching. Arizona will return just one pitcher from the run to the Women’s College World Series in rising junior Devyn Netz. Netz had an outstanding postseason, but she will need to build on that to emerge as a top Pac-12 pitcher. She will be joined by incoming freshman Sydney Somerndike, but that leaves at least one if not two places open on the staff.

There are plenty of options in the portal already. Among the headliners are Michigan’s Alex Storako, Alabama’s Lexi Kifoyl, and ASU’s Lindsay Lopez, but there are several quality pitchers beyond that trio.

Makenna Kliethermes out of Oregon is a pitcher Arizona knows well, but her outings against the Wildcats this season weren’t impressive. A more under-the-radar option for most major-conference softball fans is Payton Gottshall out of Bowling Green. For those with a sense of humor, former Wildcat and now-former Sun Devil Marissa Schuld is looking to make her second transfer since the end of the 2019 season.

Storako is a name that may not be available for long. She announced that she was visiting Oklahoma just days after the Sooners put the finishing touches on their second straight title. It would be a tough offer to refuse even though Oklahoma isn’t exactly hurting for pitching. The former Wolverine has one year to play. She had a 1.71 ERA this season in 200.1 innings pitched. That is also her career ERA over four years. She has won at least 20 games in both of the last two seasons.

Kifoyl was one of several Alabama players who went into the portal right after their season was ended by Stanford in the Tuscaloosa Regional. Arizona saw how effective she can be when the Crimson Tide visited Hillenbrand this season. Kilfoyl not only pitched a two-hit, one-walk shutout, but she also launched a home run in an 11-0 run-rule victory over the Wildcats. Alabama lists Kifoyl as a junior, but she has two more years to play.

When Texas A&M hired Trisha Ford away from ASU, it opened the floodgates to the transfer portal. In these cases, the players often follow their former coach, but there’s certainly no reason Arizona shouldn’t be reaching out to Lopez to at least gauge her interests. It could be the kind of coup that women’s basketball coach Adia Barnes recently pulled off by convincing Jade Loville to trade in the maroon and gold for cardinal and navy.

Lopez was a freshman in the curtailed 2020 season, so while listed as a junior by ASU, she has two more years of eligibility. She had a 2.12 ERA in 112.1 IP this season. Coming into this year, she had a career ERA of 2.68.

Kliethermes and the Ducks had difficulties in the circle this season that were very similar to the growing pains Arizona went through. With ace Brooke Yanez injured, they had to piece things together.

Kliethermes ended the season with a 3.65 ERA and 0.99 strikeouts per inning. However, when she faced the Wildcats, she showed that things could go off-kilter quickly against a high-powered offense. She pitched 2.2 innings each in two different games, giving up a total of 10 hits and 10 earned runs over the two appearances. They were two of six appearances when she had a game ERA of 10 or more.

The last in the group may be the most intriguing. Like most of the other pitchers on this list, Gottshall has two years remaining to play. The first three have been impressive, albeit at the mid-major level.

In just over two seasons, Gottshall has set the Bowling Green career strikeout record with 784 in 542 IP. She struck out 374 in 253.1 IP this season on her way to the Mid-American Conference Pitcher of the Year award. If her Twitter feed is any indication, the native of Massillon, Ohio also seemed to be following Arizona on the Wildcats' trip to Oklahoma City.

Pitching is the most important need for Arizona, but it’s unlikely that the staff will forego adding a position player or two, as well. The Wildcats currently have 15 players who will be on the 2023 roster, including 10 returners and five incoming freshmen. The 10 returners are the postseason lineup and one pitcher. The freshman class includes a pitcher, a catcher, two middle infielders, and one outfielder.

The Wildcats had a roster of 18 this season, and even that left room for players to become dissatisfied and transfer out. However, it’s probably a good number to use as the minimum for next season. If Arizona adds a pitcher or two, which it so desperately needs to do, it would leave room for one or two position players. The portal is full of possibilities.

Head coach Caitlin Lowe showed a tendency to bring Tucson players back to Tucson in her first season. Kristiana Watson is one player in the portal who would fulfill that role. The former Amphitheater High School star is the daughter of former Wildcat Laura Espinoza-Watson. Like the other Sun Devils who are looking for a new landing spot, she could well follow Ford to Texas A&M, but it wouldn’t be a complete surprise if Arizona at least asks if she wants to come home.

The question is whether Arizona sees the kind of potential in her that she showed at the local prep level. She had just 17 appearances this year after redshirting in 2021. She hit .255 with five home runs in 55 at-bats. The infielder has three years left to play.

With the flood of players into the portal from high-profile programs like Alabama, though, there are plenty of quality options that have no connection to Tucson. Ultimately, it may be in Arizona’s best interests to look outside the parochial bubble, even if it does please fans to see local products on the field.