When pitcher Miranda Stoddard graduated from Kentucky, she thought she was ready to move to the adult world. After a year in the corporate world, she decided softball was a better proposition for now.
“I was in the corporate world and then thought maybe I should just go back to school,” Stoddard said with a laugh. “I was working for an IT services company. I was an ESG consultant, which stands for environmental, social, and governance. I was learning some carbon accounting and stuff like that. It was in the environmental space. It’s something I want to go back and do, but maybe in a couple years.”
She has returned to the field and the classroom, where she’s studying public policy. Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe isn’t terribly worried about the year Stoddard spent away from the field because of the combination of versatility and experience she brings to the Wildcats. In addition to pitching, Stoddard plays third base and hits.
“I’m excited about the maturity, the fact that she’s competed in a good conference against good competition,” Lowe said. “She’s not going to be surprised. She’s going to come in and know what she’s getting. Yeah, it’s a year off, but sometimes it’s nice to kind of have that fresh perspective. Coming out, observing what’s going on and what the game looks like, and then stepping back into it can sometimes be just a blessing.”
Deciding where to go wasn’t a difficult decision for Stoddard. As a former California kid, she wanted to be closer to home. There was also the pull of the Arizona program.
“Playing in Kentucky, I definitely had a little bit of a yearning to play closer to home where family could come watch a lot easier,” Stoddard said. “And I know some of the alumni. Arizona has always fostered an environment that just makes players want to come back and be involved. And so, it was something that I knew that I would want to be involved with as well—not just on the field, obviously, winning and playing at this level but also beyond that.”
Stoddard comes to an Arizona program that has a lot of returning players from last season, but where half of the coaching staff is new.
“When I was coming here to kind of see what was gonna happen, if I was gonna play here, they’re like this is a good time for you to come,” Stoddard said. “We’re going to be kind of adjusting to the new staff. And so that’s kind of been the case for this past month. Just getting to know what their philosophy is. They’re also coming to understand the program and kind of how they fit into it. And obviously, we want to do better than we did last season. And so, I think that having some changes in the coaching staff can hopefully help us get there.”
She offers a similar profile as Arizona’s returning No. 1 pitcher, Devyn Netz. Both are also hitters and play infield, although Stoddard is typically at third when not in the circle and Netz plays first.
Stoddard has a career ERA of 3.56 in 141.2 innings pitched compared to the 3.64 in 328.2 IP for Netz. The transfer has a career slash of .240/.308/.474 in 287 at-bats compared to .286/.351/.558 in 154 at-bats for Arizona’s returning senior. On defense, Netz has a career fielding percentage of .971 compared to .921 for Stoddard, although Stoddard has played the more demanding defensive position when not pitching.
“We actually grew up playing travel ball against each other,” Stoddard said. “So, I don’t know that we ever formally met, but we felt like we knew each other and have a lot of respect for one another. It can be a unique situation to be a pitcher who hits or plays the field, and so I think that we’ve definitely been able to just talk about that and kind of bond over that. And she’s obviously done really well in this program, so I kind of have been looking to her to help guide me through this and kind of acclimate, but she’s great. I’m excited to get closer to her because we have so much in common. I think that will be super valuable.”
Stoddard and Netz are two of a group of seven pitchers on the team. The transfer joins freshmen Ryan Maddox and Brooke Mannon as the newcomers. Netz anchors the group of returners that also includes graduate student Ali Blanchard and sophomores Aissa Silva and Sydney Somerndike.
The large group gives new pitching coach Christian Conrad pieces to work with to create a cohesive whole that gives Arizona its best shot against any given offense. He plans to use a data-driven approach to accomplish that.
“That also helps me understand like, okay, if I know that this pitcher probably has a legit drop ball, but we’re facing a drop ball hitting team, how can I put her in a position in that game that she’s still successful?” Conrad said. “And how do I pair her with other pitchers to complement her as well? So, just similar to baseball, you have your starters, your closers. I don’t see why we can’t have the same thing in softball. They get paid millions of dollars for it. Why are we not willing to do that, too?”
As for how Stoddard fits into that, she says she likes to stay low in the zone.
“Definitely a down-ball pitcher, so lots of drop balls,” Stoddard said. “And with our defense, that’s going to be an asset just because basically if the ball’s in play, we have the tools to get outs.”
That is especially important for Arizona because of how many home runs the staff gave up last season. The Wildcats gave up 67 home runs, which was by far the most in the Pac-12.
On a per-inning basis, Stoddard had the most difficulty with home runs her freshman year when she surrendered 2.52 per seven innings. Her career average is 1.12 per seven innings with her best season coming as a sophomore when she gave up just 0.63 home runs per seven innings. Her career average is the same as that of Netz.
Hillenbrand’s reputation as a launching pad and Arizona’s issues with the long ball last season didn’t concern Stoddard.
“I think that there’s hitters that can hit a home run anywhere,” Stoddard said. “We’ve seen some of these numbers that these really great hitters are putting up on home run balls and stuff. And so, I don’t think the game plan necessarily changes. Just being secure and keeping it away and hitting your spots, all those same things. And trusting again, that your defense can help you and you don’t have to do it all yourself. I think that sometimes that could get pitchers in trouble, and that’s kind of when you give up the long ball. But yeah, I think it’s trusting that if you do put the ball in play, keep it in the park, then your team will get the job done.”
Arizona fans get the first chance to see how the 2023-24 team gets the job done when fall ball starts on Friday, Oct. 6 at 6 p.m. MST. Games against Arizona junior college opponents will be played each Friday during October and early November.