clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Allie Skaggs adapting to life as a feared bat by taking her walks for Arizona softball

arizona-softball-allie-skaggs-named-academic-all-american-csc-college-sports-communicators Photo by Mike Christy / Arizona Athletics

Hitting 24 home runs in a season has a lot of consequences, some of them good and some of them challenging. For Arizona softball second baseman Allie Skaggs, she’s learning to maneuver around the challenging ones this season.

“When you put up 20-plus homeruns the year before, people are gonna be careful with you,” said Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe. “And they just they weren’t as careful last year. She got more pitches. And this year they’re being very careful and pitching around her and she’s understanding that even if she takes a strike purposefully, she’s still in a good position. She actually hits better with strikes on her, and it’s something that not a lot of hitters do. But she realizes that when she goes deep in counts and she sees more pitches, she becomes a better hitter. So that’s a cool thing...So, just proud of the way she’s worked, especially not feeling good in the beginning of the year and working to this point. She’s done a great job.”

Skaggs has started launching balls out of the park again. She didn’t hit her first home run of the season until Mar. 1 when Arizona hosted CSU Bakersfield. She’s up to seven home runs now, but that’s not where the most drastic change has come. She’s being pitched to differently this year.

Instead of leading the league in home runs this season, Skaggs is leading the league in walks. Her 21 walks overall and 11 walks in conference play both rank first in the Pac-12. They haven’t stopped her from also leading the league in RBIs with 44 overall and 11 in Pac-12 games. The overall total is nine more than second place Maya Brady from UCLA. Her 1.52 RBIs per game rank third in NCAA softball.

“It’s just remembering that they have to bring it into the zone for me and if they do that, those are the pitches I’m gonna pounce on and if they aren’t gonna bring it anywhere near, I don’t need to get myself out,” Skaggs said.

The walks have even come in handy for her RBI total.

Last weekend, Arizona won the second game of the series against Utah because of Skaggs’ ability to judge the strike zone. After getting out in her first at-bat, she took four straight walks that day. The fourth was a bases-loaded effort in the bottom of the ninth that won the game for the Wildcats. The next day, her first plate appearance was a fifth consecutive walk.

“That is my dream scenario of coming to the plate,” Skaggs said. “There’s like bases loaded, no outs, and I’m coming up. I knew I was going to end the game doing something whether it was a sacrifice fly, drawing a walk, hitting a hard ground ball to the infielders making them make a play...I knew that I had faith in myself to do that. And if I didn’t, Devyn [Netz] was gonna do it and then [Izzy Pacho was] gonna do it. Someone. It’s very hard for a team to get out of bases loaded no outs with their three, four, five [hitters] up, so I was confident in no matter what they were gonna throw anywhere near the zone, I was going to be swinging and trying to end the game.”

The walks have helped stake Skaggs to a .510 on-base percentage. That’s second on the team behind freshman Olivia DiNardo—who leads the Pac-12 in OBP—and sixth in the conference.

That judgement of the strike zone and patience have also cut down on her strikeouts. Her strikeout rate had jumped drastically early in the season. She had 12 strikeouts in 13 games by Feb. 24 when she struck out twice against Drake. Last year, Skaggs struck out just 29 times in 61 games.

As expected, the increase in strikeouts didn’t help her batting average. The day after she struck out twice against Drake, her average dropped to .279 when she went 0 for 3 against Arkansas.

The turnaround has been noticeable. In the month since the first game against Drake, Skaggs has only struck out twice in 16 games and has her average back up to .388.

“Usually if I’m getting myself out, it’s because I’m swinging at bad pitches or I’m swinging at pitches out of the zone,” Skaggs said. “So just be confident in knowing that okay, if they get a borderline strike, good for them. That’s a good pitch by them. But I know that eventually they’re gonna have to bring me a pitch that I can hit, and if they don’t, I’m good with drawing a walk.”

Arizona needs the production of Skaggs even more with the absence of slugger Carlie Scupin. Scupin’s left forearm was broken by a pitch in the second game of a doubleheader against New Mexico State on Mar. 15. She underwent surgery on Mar. 21 and is expected to be out for 4-6 weeks, although Lowe said that she planned to travel to Washington with the team as long as her pain was manageable.

“Just happy to have her around in any capacity that we can have her,” Lowe said. “The team responded very well. It was very much so next person up and let’s go.”

Against Utah, scoring wasn’t a problem for Arizona even without Scupin. The Wildcats scored a total of 24 runs in the three-game series. They went 1-2, though, because they gave up 30 runs on defense.

Skaggs had a home run and a double during the series. While her seven home runs put her ninth in the Pac-12, she’s been a doubles machine this year. She hits 0.34 per game, which is tops in the league and 59th in Division I softball.

Skaggs and the offense face a challenge when they go to Seattle to play the Huskies, though. UW has one of the top pitchers in the conference.

Freshman Ruby Meylan is third in the Pac-12 with a 1.30 ERA. She has pitched 81 innings already, so it’s not because she isn’t going deep into games. She has eight complete games, which leads the conference. She is second in the conference in strikeouts overall (117) and first during league play (26). She averages 10.11 strikeouts per game.

“Their lefties and righties are both good,” Lowe said. “They spin the ball up. Have good velo. It’s again just going to be about making those in-game adjustments and making sure we’re hitting our pitches, that’s going to be the biggest thing. They want us to be able to swing out of the zone and we need to make sure that we’re hunting good stuff.”

The Huskies also have experience, but those experienced pitchers have not been as productive as the rookie. Kelley Lynch has a 2.50 ERA overall, which puts her at 14th in the conference. Those numbers have ballooned in conference play, though. She is sporting a 14.54 ERA in Pac-12 play and allowing opponents to hit .350. She has only pitched 42 innings this season.

Transfer Lindsay Lopez, who came over from Arizona State after the coaching change, is also having some difficulties in the circle so far this season. She has pitched even less than Lynch, getting 35.2 innings this season. Her overall ERA is 5.30 and is even higher (7.00) in Pac-12 competition. Lopez is allowing batters to hit .306 overall and .304 in conference play.

As a staff, the Huskies have a 2.45 ERA and allow opponents to hit .227, but those numbers are very different since Pac-12 play started. The ERA against conference opponents is 5.82 and opponents hit .343 against them.

The issue for Arizona is its staff has struggled at times, too. Overall, they have a 2.90 ERA and allow .235 batting average. However, in conference play, the Arizona pitchers have been more effective than the Huskies. The Wildcats’ staff has a conference ERA of 4.67 and a BAA of .305. They have also outperformed their opponents, who have an ERA of 6.33 and a BAA of .324. The Huskies’ staff lags behind its conference opponents in both stats.

Arizona will have another thing going against it in Seattle. The temperature is not expected to be over 50 degrees all weekend. Rain is in the forecast for Friday. It’s life playing at UW in March.

“I’m never one to really like try to pack my parka if I don’t have to,” Skaggs said. “I don’t wear sleeves if I don’t have to. The hardest part is just the hands get cold, so it’s hard to grip the ball. If you get jammed, it hurts really bad off the bat. But I think we’re ready. Our team has faced every single bit of weather you can imagine, especially this season and seasons before. So, yeah, we’re ready.”