No. 5 Arizona will begin its 2020 season at the Kajikawa Classic this weekend in Tempe, Ariz. The team will be tested early as it will play five games in three days, including a battle against No. 12 University of Tennessee to close out the tournament on Sunday.
None of the teams this weekend should pose a threat to the Wildcats outside of the Tennessee game. Seattle University, who the Wildcats play on Friday, went 40-17 last season and were featured in last year’s NCAA tournament but folded against tougher competition. The Redhawks lost to Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford last season and were knocked out of the postseason by Mississippi State.
With the University of Kansas, Seattle University, Portland State University, Western Michigan and Tennessee awaiting to face the Arizona Wildcats, here are a few things to watch for this weekend.
Who’s going to play where?
Although the majority of this year’s roster played together last year, this year’s team is extremely deep with plenty of options at a few different positions. Head coach Mike Candrea will have some decisions to make when constructing his starting lineup this weekend.
One position, however, that isn't set in stone is who will be starting behind the plate this weekend. Freshman Sharlize Palacios and sophomore Izzy Pacho are expected to compete for playing time this season after Dejah Mulipola left the team to compete in the 2020 Olympics this summer. Palacios is down with a broken finger, so the spot has opened up to Pacho.
“I definitely don’t think you can ever replace [Mulipola],” Pacho said. “We all miss her so much but just stepping in and doing what I can, not really comparing myself to her but doing the best that I can do for the team.”
The catcher position won’t be the only spot on the diamond that will see a new face for the Wildcats this season as junior Ivy Davis is expected to play first base this season. The spot had previously been filled by former-senior Riley Pierce who is now part of the coaching staff this year after graduating.
“[Pierce] is over there with me all the time just giving me little pointers saying ‘okay, you did that right' or ‘okay, you did this wrong.' So, it’s really helpful because she’s fresh out of the game so it’s awesome to have her there,” Davis said.
Davis is a utility-player, but although she’s played several different positions in her career before, first base has never been one of them.
“It’s definitely different,” Davis said. “But I love defense so it’s a fun experience for me.”
Who will be the team’s go-to pinch hitter?
Coach Candrea hasn’t had to worry about whose name he was going to call first off the bench for the last few years, but this season is going to be different. Tamara Statman has been the team’s go-to pinch hitter the last few seasons as the four-year player hit .323 last season with a career batting average of .280. Potential options for the Wildcats this season could be Alayna Hicks, Janelle Meono, Riley Kuderca or Isabella Dayton.
“We have a lot of kids I think that can swing the bat,” Candrea said. “It’s just going to depend on what that starting nine is going to be. We have really good speed off the bench that we can bring in for short game situations and we have some kids, depending on what our lineup is going to be, that we can bring off the bench. I feel pretty good about that.”
The pitching rotation is larger than its two strong arms
The Kajikawa Classic could serve as a proving ground for the back-end of Arizona’s pitching rotation. The Wildcats are competing in five games in three days, four of which are against teams that aren’t very good, making it a possibility to see more pitchers in the circle for Arizona outside of aces, Mariah Lopez and Alyssa Denham.
“I’m sure you’ll see a little bit of everyone to this point,” Candrea said. “I think Marissa Schuld has thrown some good innings for us here and is getting ready and getting better. I think Hannah Bowen has done a good job too.”
Schuld pitched in 14.2 innings last season as a freshman, giving up just one run and striking out eight. Bowen saw similar success in 2019 as she surrendered just two runs in 29 innings while striking out 27.
The action begins with a doubleheader on Friday against Kansas at 12:30 p.m. and Seattle at 5:00 p.m.
Follow Jacob Mennuti on Twitter