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No. 24 Arizona softball approaches full strength as No. 2 UCLA comes to town

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arizona-softball-approaches-full-strength-ucla-comes-to-town-pacho-carroll-scupin-dinardo Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics

Arizona softball can’t worry about who’s not with them. That’s true whether it’s players who transferred to this week’s opponent during the offseason or players who have been out in recent weeks for various reasons. They have to approach the games based on who is there in the moment.

“I think we joked a lot going into Stanford,” said freshman catcher Olivia DiNardo. “Like, ‘Oh, we have 14. We have 10...position players,’ but all of us just want to win and we just go out there every day, keep showing up, and whatever happens happens. I think like we’re really trying to get the best out of it. We have utilities, we have people that can do a lot of things. So, it’s just working together and finding our end goal.”

As DiNardo alluded to, the team played against then-No. 7 Stanford with just 14 players last week—four pitchers, nine position players, and a pitcher/infielder. They won’t have to do that this week when they face yet another top 10 team in UCLA. Fifth-year catcher Izzy Pacho is back after spending two weeks away dealing with personal matters. Junior shortstop Sophia Carroll is also back after missing last week.

Knowing that they can be competitive no matter what the odds is important to head coach Caitlin Lowe. While they ended up losing all three games to Stanford last weekend, they were once again in every game, losing by scores of 5-1, 3-2 and 3-1 despite the lack of pinch hitters, pinch runners or defensive replacements.

“It was a big-time challenge and kind of snuck up on us a little bit fast,” Lowe said. “We got on the plane with 10 position players and four pitchers, and that group that was there was ready to rock and roll. And I think that’s the biggest thing. We’ve been knocked around a little bit with that stuff, but I think their perseverance, I have been so, so proud of that. And we can execute with however many people we have on the field, so they have each other’s back in those moments. And I know without a doubt that we can still make it happen.”

Lowe also knows that the return of slugger Carlie Scupin is not far over the horizon. Scupin had her left forearm broken by a pitch on Mar. 15. She had surgery on Mar. 21 and was expected to be out 4-6 weeks. She’s been working to get back almost the entire time.

“She’s been a rock star,” Lowe said. “I mean, she’s done it with a brace on, she’s done it with the brace off. She can use her gloved hand freely, so she has not even—I mean, I think surgery week she took that week off—and...has been conditioning, has been working on her glove work. Can grip a bat right now. Can’t take a full swing off of pitches, obviously, but dabbled in a little bit of just light throwing [on Tuesday] so she’s working herself back in.”

The throwing and gripping of a bat are especially promising since Scupin both bats and throws left-handed. The activity level on the side with her broken arm suggests she may hit her return target date.

In the interim, it’s been younger players like DiNardo picking up the slack. The freshman played mostly as the designated player earlier in the season, but the absence of Pacho the last two weeks put her behind the plate. Regardless of whether she plays defense or not, she’s been effective.

Her .454 average leads the Pac-12 among all players and is first in NCAA Division I among freshmen. Overall, it ranks 14th in the nation. Although she doesn’t consider hitting home runs to be her primary strength as a hitter, she’s now up to six on the year including four in her last seven games.

Like many of the freshmen, she’s also been asked to do a lot of different things this season. While she hasn’t jumped all over the defensive infield and outfield like Tayler Biehl or Logan Cole, she’s been in and out of the defensive lineup and in several different positions in the offensive lineup. At Stanford, she even got a taste of leading off.

“It was definitely interesting,” DiNardo said. “I think the last time I led off was maybe like 12U. Getting thrown up there I was like, ‘Okay, we will figure it out.’ And I think my third at-bat, I was more comfortable and felt like, ‘Okay, I can do this.’”

Those adjustments will be needed again this weekend as the team faces UCLA’s Megan Faraimo in the circle. Faraimo’s 1.10 ERA is even lower than the 1.45 ERA of Stanford’s Alana Vawter, and the Wildcats had some difficulty against her last weekend.

Faraimo is second in the Pac-12 in ERA and 14th in the country. She has allowed just 63 hits in 114.2 innings pitched this season. That ranks No. 18 in the nation and second in the conference. Of the pitchers in the top 10 of the league in ERA, she has pitched the second most innings.

“Megan is a competitor,” Lowe said. “She always has been and attacks hitters right away, goes right at the zone. It’s important to make sure we’re on time early and we’re hunting the ones that we want to swing. And I think just like any good pitcher, the ways you can create momentum—with your hacks in the strike zone, a good foul ball, being able to execute by moving runners and controlling the barrel—and then just from first at-bat to second at-bat, what does that look like, and do we get better all weekend? And we’ve consistently done that in the Pac 12. We just need to make sure that it happens as soon as possible.”

No. 2 UCLA Bruins (36-4, 12-3) @ No. 24 Arizona Wildcats (24-15, 3-9)

When: Game 1 will be on Friday, Apr. 14 at 6 p.m. MST. Game 2 will be on Saturday, Apr. 15 at 1 p.m. MST. Game 3 will be on Sunday, Apr. 16 at 12 p.m. MST

Where: Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium in Tucson, Ariz.

TV: Game 1 will be aired on Pac-12 Network and Pac-12 Los Angeles. Game 2 will be aired on Pac-12 Oregon. Game 3 will be aired on Pac-12 Network, Pac-12 Arizona and Pac-12 Los Angeles.

Streaming: Streaming is available via the Pac-12 Now app or online. Both options require a subscription via a TV provider. Streaming is also available with a subscription to a TV package that includes the Pac-12 Network via Sling, Fubo, or Vidgo.

Stats: In-game stats are available on Arizona Live Stats for Game 1, Game 2, and Game 3

Rankings: Arizona is ranked No. 24 in the NFCA/USA Today coaches poll and No. 25 in the Softball America rankings. It is first on the “others receiving votes” list of the ESPN/USA Softball poll and unranked by D1 Softball. The Wildcats are No. 40 in the RPI.

UCLA is ranked No. 2 in all five major polls and ranking systems including the RPI.

This site uses the NFCA poll as the official ranking.

How to follow along: Follow us on Twitter @AZDesertSwarm for all things Arizona Wildcats. For live tweets of softball and news throughout the week, follow our deputy editor @KimDoss71.