The old saw about the first week of NCAA softball is that the top teams did what they were supposed to against “weak opposition.” There’s some truth to that, but it wasn’t always the case during this year’s opening weekend.
Florida State came into the season ranked No. 5 in the NFCA/USA Today preseason coaches poll. Alabama was ranked No. 9 in that preseason poll. Arizona State was No. 22. Mississippi State was No. 23. Oregon was No. 24. All have at least one loss with both MSU and UO sporting two. Even unanimous No. 1 Oklahoma scratched out a 1-0 win over Liberty in extra innings.
As many coaches like to remind us, there’s talent everywhere. That makes Arizona’s 5-0 weekend in the Candrea Classic at least a bit comforting. The Wildcats weren’t challenged in their first five, putting all five games away in five innings with run-rule victories.
Devyn Netz is healthy
Arizona didn’t talk much about injuries last season, but pitcher Devyn Netz was sometimes seen wearing a boot on her off days. Late in the season, word of a hip injury to former pitcher Hanah Bowen came out and she missed a few other games during the year for reasons that were never fully explained.
The pitching staff isn’t completely healthy this year, either, as head coach Caitlin Lowe verified at media day. However, Netz is no longer among the injured.
The improved health makes Netz more dangerous in the circle and has also returned her to the batter’s box. In addition to picking up three wins with a 1.27 ERA and 0.82 WHIP, Netz hit .500 with 10 at-bats over the weekend. Among those with at least 10 at-bats, she is third on the team with a 1.371 OPS.
Netz didn’t just hit when she was not pitching, either. When she was in the circle, the designated player hit for the shortstop, whether that was Tayler Biehl or Sophia Carroll.
The improved health has also allowed Netz to get bigger and stronger, in the estimation of her head coach. Lowe said her starting pitcher looks like she’s added muscle to her frame.
“When you go through injuries, you’re kind of modified in everything you do—weight room, running,” Lowe said. “And she’s running on the ground now. She’s not on a bike. Just a little bit of everything. So, she’s able to do the full workouts with the teams plus or minus a few things.”
Arizona is running
Arizona hit a total of four home runs while scoring 63 runs over the weekend. They had eight stolen bases in those five games. Last season, the Wildcats stole just 23 bases all year.
Jasmine Perezchica leads the team with three, while both Biehl and Dakota Kennedy ended the weekend with two each. Kaiah Altmeyer picked up the eighth.
Perezchica already has almost one-third as many stolen bases as she had last year. She led the team in 2022 with 10. It’s worth noting that the other three swiping bases are all freshmen, though.
Lowe said after Saturday’s win over North Carolina State that they are starting to see who might be threats to run, but they also know that they will run into strong defenses and strong arms at the catching position as the season progresses.
Izzy Pacho doesn’t seem to be slowing down
Catcher Izzy Pacho got her first opportunity to hit on a regular basis last season. The chance to get everyday at-bats helped her have the best offensive season of her career. She wound up 2022 with a .360 batting average and never dropped below .352. Now in her fifth and final season with the Wildcats, she opened strong again this year.
Pacho’s first at-bat of the season was a grand slam in the first inning to give Arizona a 4-0 lead over Long Beach State. She went 3 for 3 at the plate on opening day.
On her second day, Pacho was on base a lot but didn’t get any hits. Instead, she was the one being hit as she was hit by pitches a total of three times in two games.
She was back hitting the ball on Sunday in the second game against NC State. Pacho went 3 for 4 to end her weekend hitting .545. Her .818 slugging percentage is second on the team among those who have at least 10 at-bats.
Carlie Scupin is off to a hot start
Carlie Scupin had an up and down year last season. She went through a bit of a lull in Pac-12 competition, but came back with a vengeance during the postseason. She picked up right where she left off.
Scupin had two of the Wildcats’ four home runs over the weekend. Her 14 total bases lead the team. She joins Allie Skaggs (10) and Blaise Biringer (10) as the only players with double-digit total bases. She and Biringer are also the only players with at least 10 RBIs. Biringer has 10 while Scupin has 14.
Scupin is also getting to stay in the lineup more. With Giulia Koutsoyanopulos gone, she is no longer being replaced by a defensive substitute late in games. It’s one of several reasons that she has amassed a team-high 16 at-bats.
Ali Blanchard appears to be the No. 2 pitcher
Ali Blanchard spent her first three years at Princeton where she was first team All-Ivy League last year. She led the Ivy League with 155 strikeouts in 2022. The question was how she would do at Arizona.
So far, she has had a strong performance. She started the Wildcats’ second game and came in to relieve freshman Aissa Silva in the final game of the weekend.
Blanchard picked up the win in both outings. In just six innings of work, she has struck out seven including five of the 11 batters she faced in her final appearance.