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Arizona softball sweeps opening tournament

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Caleb Villegas | The Daily Wildcat

Alyssa Denham (22) on the mound at Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium on Saturday, March 30. No. 11 Arizona softball run-ruled 17th-ranked Arizona State for the second-straight night.

Arizona softball could not have had a better start to its 2020 season after going 5-0 in the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe. The Wildcats also passed their first test of the season by run-ruling No. 12 Tennessee 8-0 in five innings. Here’s what we learned from the weekend games as the Wildcats prepare to host the Hillenbrand Invitational next weekend.

Mariah Lopez lived up to the hype

All eyes were set on the newcomer after one of the biggest questions concerning this team was replacing former pitcher Taylor McQuillin. The Oklahoma transfer showed us why head coach Mike Candrea was so excited to add Lopez to the roster. Lopez pitched 11.2 innings in three appearances last weekend, giving up just one run while fanning 20 hitters, including her nine-strikeout performance against Western Michigan on Saturday.

Lopez started two games in the circle and made a relief appearance against Seattle University after senior Alyssa Denham struggled in her first start of the year, allowing three runs in four innings and walking two. Lopez stopped the bleeding by entering in the fifth inning and getting the next two outs, ending the Redhawks rally. The only run she gave up came off a solo home run from Kansas’ Morgyn Wynne in the opening game.

Jessie Harper is chasing history

After hitting 29 homers last season and clubbing two more in last weekend’s tournament, senior shortstop Jessie Harper now sits 30th all-time in career home runs with 68 blasts. The program record was set by Katiyana Mauga in 2017 with 92 career homers, with the all-time record held by Oklahoma’s Lauren Chamberlain at 95 home runs. Harper is now 24 home runs away from the Arizona record and 27 off the all-time record. 

“To be honest with you, Jessie and I haven’t talked a bit about [the home run record],” Candrea said. “Jessie is one of those players that just comes out and plays the game and plays the game hard, never takes a rep off. She doesn’t worry about stats, she just worries about wins.”

RELATED: Arizona Softball prepared to meet high expectations this year

Izzy Pacho proved she can step up to the challenge 

Before the season began, both Candrea and Pacho agreed that replacing Dejah Mulipola was going to be an impossible task, but Pacho certainly stepped up to the task. The sophomore started and caught all five games after freshman Sharlize Palacios went down with a broken hand. 

Pacho appeared in 24 games last year, where she posted a .195 batting average and two home runs but proved to have shaken off her 2019 struggles by going 6 for 13 with a home run and three RBIs at the plate in Tempe.

Arizona has a ton of roster depth

Coach Candrea entered the Kajikawa Classic with the goal of using the set of games to evaluate his roster. Earlier in the week, he hinted at possibly seeing a few different lineups at first base, the outfield and even pitching in the circle. Candrea took full advantage of the five games by using five different batting lineups, three different pitchers and three different first basemen. 

The Wildcats deployed their expected game plan of alternating starts between Lopez and Denham in its first two contests. Hannah Bowen started the third game against Portland State but struggled in her first appearance, surrendering three runs in 2.2 innings pitched. Bowen and Marissa Schuld proved they can be more than a useful arm for Arizona as they both saw time as the team’s designated hitter. Schuld went 4 for 8 with her first career homer, including her two-hit performance against Portland State. Bowen finished the weekend going two for five at the plate.

The newly converted first basemen Ivy Davis played four games at first base while splitting action with Bowen and Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza at the position. Candrea also gave his freshman outfielders some playing time as Bella Dayton and Janelle Meono shared time hitting leadoff and playing left field. Meono struggled, picking up just one hit in 10 plate appearances, but Dayton seemed to have settled in quickly by going one for two in her debut with a home run. She also recorded her first career assist by hosing a runner at the plate to save a run against Tennessee.

The Wildcats will play its first home game next weekend as they host the Hillenbrand Invitational starting on Friday at 2 p.m. against Long Beach State.


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