Alyssa Denham tosses second career no-hitter to close out Hillenbrand Invitational
No. 4 Arizona Softball entered the finale of the Hillenbrand Invitational on Sunday after rebounding from its first loss of the season against No. 2 Oklahoma. The Wildcats proved to be unbothered by the gut-wrenching 10-inning contest against the Sooners the night before, shutting out Long Beach State University by a score of 6-0. But the Arizona offense wasn’t the main story of Sunday’s game: Alyssa Denham threw her second career no-hitter against the Beach to flip the momentum back to the Wildcats before their upcoming game against Team USA on Tuesday.
“I don’t think they ever get old,” said Denham about the feeling of throwing a no-hitter. “Next time I pitch, I’m going to try to get another one and that’s just how it is. It’s a great feeling, but it definitely was not only me, it was the defense. [Sharlize Palacios] did a great job behind home plate. She really helped me with some of those pitches, and her glovework was outstanding.”
Arizona finished 3-1 in the weekend tournament to improve their record to 9-1 on the year. Here’s what we learned in the Hillenbrand Invitational.
This team still has some problems to fix
The Arizona Wildcats came into the 2020 season with their strongest senior class in recent history. A team with a ton of college experience is expected to be nothing short of perfect, but head coach Mike Candrea was quick to remind us that this team still needs to improve.
“My biggest thing right now is sustaining good at-bats," Candrea said. "We gave away a lot of at-bats this weekend. Not being on-time, our eyes are getting way out here, so we’re making decisions too early. We gotta button some things up.”
Arizona scored four runs in the first inning against LBSU on Sunday but tallied just two more the rest of the game. Candrea said the problem with this team is not continuing to build off an early lead.
“We have been doing that more than I wish,” he said. “We tend to score and then we don’t keep the pressure on them.”
Coach Candrea has also continued to shuffle around the batting order in an attempt to balance out the production throughout the lineup. In the loss against Oklahoma, the Wildcats’ bottom half of the order saw just one hit in 21 at-bats. Arizona deployed four different lineups over the weekend, but nothing seemed to change the narrative of the Wildcats’ top-heavy lineup.
Arizona may have finally found its leadoff hitter
It’s been a couple of years, but the Wildcats look to have finally found their true leadoff hitter to complement their lineup. At the beginning of the year, coach Candrea was confident in freshman Janelle Meono to fill the role of being a leadoff hitter, but she has not performed in her opportunities so far, hitting just 2-19 this season.
But all hope was not lost. Freshman Bella Dayton has looked the part of being the team’s leadoff hitter so far. Dayton has appeared in eight games, hitting in the one-spot in three of those and has been nothing short of efficient in the leadoff role. She’s gone 4-9 at the top of the lineup and has already stolen five bases in five attempts.
“I think Bella [Dayton] has a chance,” Candrea said about the possibility of Dayton being the team’s one-spot hitter. “Whether she’s ready for that moment against quality teams, time will tell, but she’s very capable of it. She’s a very intense player, so she’s going to make something happen. Her mistakes are always going to be aggressive and I like that.”
Arizona now has a few options behind the plate
After sophomore Izzy Pacho started and caught in all five of Arizona’s first games, Pacho saw her role decline after freshman catcher Sharlize Palacios returned to the lineup after her breaking her thumb back in January. Palacios made her first career start for the Wildcats on Friday against Northern Iowa. She also smacked her first career home run on Sunday against LBSU, proving that she could be a reliable option at the catcher position.
"[Palacios] is a really good off-speed hitter,” Candrea said. “It’s nice to see her back. My biggest question mark was her ability to catch, and I think she’s kind of over that barrier now, so she gives us another option.”
Arizona’s next game will be an exhibition match at home against Team USA on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
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