Arizona softball welcomes Team USA to Tucson
As the USA Softball Women’s National Team prepares for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, they will be making a stop on their “Stand Beside Her” tour in Tucson on Tuesday to face off against the Arizona Wildcats. This will be Arizona softball’s last February game at Hillenbrand Stadium before hitting the road for two consecutive weekends. This weekend, the Wildcats head to Tuscaloosa to play in the Mary Nutter Classic but not before playing an exhibition game against Team USA.
“It’s gonna be fun because I think it’ll help prepare us for Marry Nutter, We got a full schedule there,” head coach Mike Candrea said about the upcoming match against the Women’s National Team. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for our kids to play that team, and we’re gonna make sure that every kid gets in the game and gets an opportunity to play against USA.”
Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza had the opportunity to face pitchers on the Women’s National Team at tryouts in 2019 and is also looking forward to the matchup.
“I’m excited,” Palomino-Cardoza said. “You know I faced all of them in the USA tryouts, so I kind of know what they throw like. It’s just for me, keeping my head in the game and know that I can hit any pitcher.”
The game will also be a homecoming for catcher Deja Mulipola. The Wildcats are without Mulipola this season, as she is one of three seniors on the Women’s National Team who are redshirting to train and compete with the team this summer, but are elated to see her back in Tucson.
“We’re psyched to have her back here in Hillenbrand,” Palomino-Cardoza said. “We know she’s excited, and she’ll be happy to be back. We’re just gonna go out and have fun and play Arizona softball.”
With Mulipola missing the 2020 season, the Wildcats have been rotating freshman Sharlize Palacios and sophomore Izzy Pacho behind the dish. On Sunday, Palacios was on the receiving end of Alyssa Denham’s second career no-hitter against Long Beach State.
“I think the biggest thing with [Palacios] is just giving her the chance to mature,” coach Candrea said. “There’s gonna be some mistakes along the way, and it’s kind of like our other freshmen. I think they’re gonna be good players. It’s just they have to kind of learn on the job and don’t have the luxury of sitting back and learning, but sometimes that’s the best way. It gives you more of a mature player down the road, that’s for sure.”
With Palacios adjusting to starting games behind the plate after a setback from breaking her left thumb, Candrea has seen similarities between Palacios and Mulipola’s skill sets.
“[Mulipola's] got some tremendous athletic abilities,” Candrea said. “Not often you get kids like that, and [Palacios] is like that – good power, good athleticism, good arm, very stable mentally, smart kid and so it’ll be fun for her to get a chance to watch [Mulipola] work.”
While most may find the task of filling Mulipola’s shoes more than difficult, Palomino-Cardoza has offered Palacios words of encouragement.
“I told [Palacios] before the season, I said, ‘Hey, you have no shoes to fill,’” Palomino-Cardoza said. “I said, ‘Just be [Palacios]. Play like [Palacios] and you’ll be just fine.’ I think she’s starting to realize that she’s slowing the game down, and she’ll step up in big ways.”
While the Women’s National Team consists of seasoned veterans, ’06 and ’10 World Championship Gold Medalist Cat Osterman and NCAA career strikeout record holder Monica Abbott to name a couple, the Wildcats are mainly looking to learn and grow from the experience at the end of the day.
“I think it’s a good challenge for our kids,” Candrea said. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime for our kids to play that team and we’re gonna make sure that every kid gets in the game and gets an opportunity to play against USA.”
The action begins tonight at 7 p.m at Hillenbrand Stadium.
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