[ {"id":"c78285ab-f3b1-5edc-9ca4-e09eec7d9c6f","type":"article","starttime":"1487779200","starttime_iso8601":"2017-02-22T09:00:00-07:00","lastupdated":"1487821867","priority":40,"sections":[{"softball":"sports/arizonawildcats/softball"}],"flags":{"editors_pick":"true","top_story":"true"},"application":"editorial","title":"The Arizona Wildcats have one of the nation's best lineups, and here's why","url":"http://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/softball/article_c78285ab-f3b1-5edc-9ca4-e09eec7d9c6f.html","permalink":"http://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/softball/the-arizona-wildcats-have-one-of-the-nation-s-best/article_c78285ab-f3b1-5edc-9ca4-e09eec7d9c6f.html","canonical":"http://tucson.com/sports/arizonawildcats/softball/the-arizona-wildcats-have-one-of-the-nation-s-best/article_c78285ab-f3b1-5edc-9ca4-e09eec7d9c6f.html","relatedAssetCounts":{"article":0,"audio":0,"image":1,"link":0,"vmix":0,"youtube":0,"gallery":0},"byline":"By Zack Rosenblatt\nArizona Daily Star","prologue":"Here's how Arizona's offense makes it one of America's most dominant softball teams.\u00a0","supportsComments":true,"commentCount":0,"keywords":[],"internalKeywords":["#latest","#editorspick"],"customProperties":{"arm_id":"74127"},"presentation":"","images":[{"id":"e84c6ab4-6be5-58ea-8048-26b3ebf9321b","description":"Arizona freshman infielder Jessie Harper (19) has crushed four home runs, second to Katiyana Mauga who has six.","byline":"Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star","hireswidth":1789,"hiresheight":1157,"hiresurl":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/e/84/e84c6ab4-6be5-58ea-8048-26b3ebf9321b/58ad1ad9a6357.hires.jpg","presentation":"","versions":{"full":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"620","height":"401","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/e/84/e84c6ab4-6be5-58ea-8048-26b3ebf9321b/58ad1ad9a455f.image.jpg?resize=620%2C401"},"100": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"100","height":"56","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/e/84/e84c6ab4-6be5-58ea-8048-26b3ebf9321b/58ad1ad9a455f.image.jpg?crop=1789%2C1006%2C0%2C104&resize=100%2C56&order=crop%2Cresize"},"300": {"type":"image/jpeg","width":"300","height":"169","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/e/84/e84c6ab4-6be5-58ea-8048-26b3ebf9321b/58ad1ad9a455f.image.jpg?crop=1789%2C1006%2C0%2C104&resize=300%2C169&order=crop%2Cresize"},"1024":{"type":"image/jpeg","width":"1024","height":"576","url":"http://bloximages.chicago2.vip.townnews.com/tucson.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/e/84/e84c6ab4-6be5-58ea-8048-26b3ebf9321b/58ad1ad9a455f.image.jpg?crop=1789%2C1006%2C0%2C104&resize=1024%2C576&order=crop%2Cresize"}}}],"revision":8,"commentID":"c78285ab-f3b1-5edc-9ca4-e09eec7d9c6f","body":"

For a long time, Arizona was one of the most dominant softball programs in the sport thanks to its balance of top-notch hitting and pitching prowess.

Before 2009, Arizona\u2019s pitching staff never had an ERA greater than 2.00. Since? That\u2019s all the Wildcats have had, topped by a program-worst 4.34 in 2015.

During that decline, the Wildcats became a power hitting team unlike anything Arizona had seen. Before 2009, Arizona amassed more than 100 home runs just once, in 1995. They\u2019ve eclipsed the century mark four times since.

Two weeks into the 2017 season, the Wildcats again look like an offensive juggernaut. They rank No. 9 nationally in batting average, third in runs scored and home runs and seventh in on-base percentage.

Arizona scored 58 runs in six games of the Wildcat Invitational last weekend.

Balance?

Arizona (11-0) also ranks third in the nation in ERA.

\u201cI like where we\u2019re at offensively,\u201d UA coach Mike Candrea said as the team prepared for the Mary Nutter Classic, which starts Thursday in Palm Springs, California. \u201cI thought we had good production, not just 1-through-9, but off the bench we had some kids come in and were prepared and did a nice job for us. Defensively, I thought we played solid and got good pitching. You can\u2019t complain about that. At this stage, there\u2019s not much to complain about.\u201d

Here are three reasons why Arizona\u2019s offense is humming:

1. Katiyana Mauga is back. For the last three years, few players in the country have hit for power with the consistency of Mauga, Arizona\u2019s All-America third baseman.

Mauga entered the season with 67 career home runs, 20 away from Stacie Chambers\u2019 program record of 87, and 28 from Oklahoma\u2019s Lauren Chamberlain\u2019s NCAA record of 95. Through 11 games, Mauga has already hit six long balls, putting her on pace for a career high of 30.

Mauga also has been walked nine times, second-most in the Pac-12, which is surprising considering \u2026

2. Arizona\u2019s bottom of the order is stellar, so far. The bottom half of Arizona\u2019s lineup was inconsistent a year ago, when the Wildcats uncharacteristically struggled at the plate. Only four Wildcats \u2014 Mauga, Mandie Perez, Mo Mercado and Eva Watson \u2014 finished with a batting average above .300.

Alyssa Palomino is as advertised at the plate \u2014 a year after missing her freshman season with an injury. Palomino is batting third, pushing Mauga to cleanup, and bumping Mercado from third to fifth. Palomino leads the team with 18 RBIs.

Freshman catcher Dejah Mulipola hits second, and first baseman Jessie Harper sixth. Tamara Statman and Ashleigh Hughes moved down in the order. The result?

A lineup as deep as it\u2019s been in years.

\u201cIt\u2019s actually exciting and really not putting too much pressure on me,\u201d Mauga said. \u201cIt makes me more relaxed going in the box and keeping my mindset not chasing, being patient. They still pitch around me, but just having them to protect me is something that I like.\u201d

3. Fabulous freshmen. Candrea says all freshmen are expected to contribute right away. Still, there\u2019s no precedent for this.

Mulipola is batting a team-best .593 \u2014 yes, she\u2019s batting .593 through 27 at-bats \u2014 with 17 RBIs and 14 runs scored. Harper has hit four home runs, second to Mauga. Even Reyna Carranco, a utility infielder, is contributing. She walked three times in three plate appearances \u2014 and scored three runs \u2014 in Arizona\u2019s win over Drake last week.

\u201cI like our lineup,\u201d Candrea said. \u201cThere\u2019s a lot of different varieties we can put in there that continue to make it strong.\u201d

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The No. 10 University of Arizona softball team added two more wins to its perfect start Sunday, beating North Dakota State 2-1 and Boston College 12-2 at the Wildcat Invitational.

The Wildcats (11-0) went 6-0 at the event, outscoring opponents 58-4. For the season, Arizona has scored 97 runs and allowed only 10.

Dejah Mulipola had three hits in the opener, and her two-run homer in the first inning was the only runs UA would score.

Danielle O\u2019Toole (6-0) earned the victory, allowing only a fourth-inning run.

Arizona exploded early against Boston College, scoring eight times in the first and going on to win the run-rule contest in 4 1/2 innings.

Mulipola homered and drove in six runs, while Katiyana Mauga blasted her sixth home run of the season.

Nancy Bowling (2-0) allowed one hit in four innings to earn the win.

Arizona will next compete at the Mary Nutter Invitational in Palm Springs, Calif. UA will open play at the event when it takes on Louisville and BYU on Thursday.

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There\u2019s at least one rule in softball recruiting: If the Arizona Wildcats are chasing a player, she\u2019s probably elite.

Coach Mike Candrea has his pick of the litter, and he knows what he\u2019s looking for. It\u2019s not only talent.

\u201cYou try to find the best player that has the highest character, that\u2019s going to be the best teammate. That\u2019s what you look for,\u201d Candrea said.

\u201cDo they have the skill set? Are they a high-character kid that you can trust and know they\u2019re going to do the right things, then at the end of the day, can they be that good teammate that people will embrace and look up to? That\u2019s a big part of the puzzle when you\u2019re looking at kids.\u201d

Candrea believes he\u2019s found the right pieces in his freshman class, which is highlighted by infielder Jessie Harper and catcher Dejah Mulipola. The young players have slid nicely into one of the nation\u2019s most experienced clubs.

Arizona\u2019s roster includes eight seniors. The Wildcats\u2019 opening-night starting lineup included five seniors, and two \u2014 Mandie Perez and Danielle O\u2019Toole \u2014 are fifth-year players. The UA lost just one senior, Lauren Young, from last year\u2019s team. Young didn\u2019t go far; she\u2019s serving as an undergraduate assistant this year.

Mulipola said it was \u201cintimidating\u201d to join a team with so many veteran players, but her teammates made her feel at home.

Harper agreed.

\u201cFor me, all eight seniors have been so nice,\u201d she said. \u201cI was so scared \u2014 like, \u2018Oh my god, there\u2019s eight seniors, are they going to like the freshmen?\u2019 But they\u2019ve been helping me so much.\u201d

So far, their transitions have been seamless. Through five games, Mulipola leads all Wildcats with a .538 batting average. Harper is hitting .357. Both belted their first collegiate home runs in last week\u2019s Hillenbrand Invitational.

Mulipola, from Garden Grove, California, came to Arizona as the No. 5 recruit in the nation by FloSoftball. She was plugged in as the Cats\u2019 starting catcher, a position that\u2019s arguably the toughest on the field. Mulipola has done well behind the plate, too: Arizona\u2019s pitching staff carries a collective 0.88 ERA.

\u201cSome of the bigger adjustments (to college) are just playing at the same level as my teammates,\u201d Mulipola said. \u201cEspecially with a lot of seniors on the team, I just try to better myself to be at their level. I can fit in and mold to the team.\u201d

Candrea is impressed with Mulipola now, but knows the big challenge will come later in the season.

\u201cThe big thing is that\u2019s a position you need to have some stability,\u201d Candrea said. \u201cThat\u2019s the question mark, can the person stay there? When things are going well for them, it\u2019s easy to do. When things aren\u2019t going well for them, can they separate the offense from the defense and give you that stable effort even though they may be struggling offensively?\u201d

Harper admits to differences in the college game \u2014 \u201cgirls are faster, bigger, stronger,\u201d she said \u2014 but seems to have adjusted well. The Stevenson Ranch, California, native played four games at first base last weekend.

Both standout freshmen have adapted quickly, Candrea said.

Mulipola has \u201cemotional stability,\u201d he said. \u201cShe doesn\u2019t get too high, doesn\u2019t get too low. She\u2019s played the game at a high level so she\u2019s been there before but I think she stays in the present moment really well.\u201d

And Harper?

\u201cShe\u2019s a competitor, she\u2019s very active, she thinks the game, she\u2019s offensively I think going to be a good player,\u201d he said. \u201cShe makes adjustments, and she\u2019s just got a good approach to the game. You know how sometimes people can walk into a room and light up a room? Well, she brings that to the field.\u201d

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The University of Arizona softball team looked the part of a top-10 team in its perfect opening weekend.

The No. 10-ranked Wildcats run-ruled Tulsa 10-2 Sunday to complete a 5-0 mark at the Hillenbrand Invitational.

Katiyana Mauga mashed her fourth homer of the year, while Mo Mercado homered and drove in four runs as the UA won in six innings.

Mandie Perez went 2 for 3 and scored twice for the Wildcats. Dejah Mulipola and Mauga also scored twice for Arizona, which outscored its opponents 39-6 this weekend.

Mauga hit .429 over the five games and drove in eight runs. She\u2019s slugging 1.357 with 19 total bases in 14 at-bats.

Danielle O\u2019Toole (3-0) didn\u2019t allow an earned run in six innings, striking out six and allowing six hits. She\u2019s allowed just one earned run in 20 innings this season.

Arizona scored three times in the first and twice in the second to quickly go up 5-0.

Tulsa (1-4) cut the lead to 6-2 with a pair of unearned runs in the fifth before the Wildcats ended the game with four in the bottom of the sixth.

The Wildcats compete in the Wildcat Invitational this week, opening against Drake at 5 p.m. Thursday. The UA will also play against Ball State, Abilene Christian, Boston College and North Dakota State at the event.

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Arizona Wildcats ace Danielle O\u2019Toole wasted little time thinking about her laborious first-inning debut.

She knows better than anyone what the UA lineup is capable of, and what heaps of trouble await opposing pitchers when they face the Wildcats.

Tenth-ranked Arizona\u2019s barrage of bats covered up O\u2019Toole\u2019s lone blemish Thursday night, and the Wildcats defeated Fordham 8-1 at Hillenbrand Stadium in the team\u2019s 2017 opener. Arizona is hosting the annual Hillenbrand Invitational, which continues through Sunday.

O\u2019Toole, like the rest of her teammates, seemed a bit too anxious to take the field. The pitcher surrendered one run on three consecutive singles to start the game. She regained her composure quickly, retiring the next 11 batters in what turned into an easy win.

\u201cThe thing I saw today was a lot of butterflies,\u201d Arizona coach Mike Candrea said. \u201cI can\u2019t remember the last time I saw this team all standing on the rail waiting to go. Those are good butterflies, but that\u2019s part of the process.\u201d

The Wildcats\u2019 butterflies didn\u2019t last for long.

Arizona\u2019s offense responded in the bottom of the first when, with two runners on and no outs, redshirt freshman Alyssa Palomino drove a 3-0 pitch to right field. Mandie Perez scored on the single , Dejah Mulipola crossed home plate on a throwing error by the right fielder and Palomino took home on a subsequent throwing error by Fordham\u2019s catcher.

Just like that, the Wildcats held a 3-1 lead.

\u201cCoach gave me the green light and I said, \u2018anything in there, I\u2019m swinging,\u2019\u201d said Palomino, who missed all of last season after tearing her ACL. \u201cIt was fun.\u201d

Arizona tagged on three more runs in the third inning off Katiyana Mauga\u2019s opposite-field solo homer and a two-out, two-run pinch hit single by Tamara Statman.

Mulipola scored on a sacrifice fly by Mauga in the fourth. A wild pitch later in the inning scored Mo Mercado.

The Wildcats collected nine hits despite struggles from the bottom of the order. Arizona\u2019s Nos. 6-9 hitters went a combined 3 for 12.

\u201cI keep saying this, I hate throwing to my own team,\u201d O\u2019Toole said. \u201cIt\u2019s so stacked.\u201d

Arizona stayed aggressive at the plate and on the bases, traits that Candrea hopes will become a trend this season. Every at-bat, the coach said, will be a battle for more playing time on a team overflowing with talent.

\u201cWe\u2019re tougher on ourselves and how we play the game,\u201d Candrea said. \u201cWhat kind of energy do you bring to the ballpark? What kind of at-bats do you have? But ultimately at the end of the day, did you play Arizona softball?\u201d

The Wildcats will get plenty of chances this weekend. Cal State Northridge awaits Arizona on Friday at 5 p.m., followed by Saturday games against Baylor (3 p.m.) and Northwestern (5 p.m.).

Arizona wraps up the tournament Sunday with a noon start against Tulsa.

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Alyssa Palomino was the first one to hear the news.

Taylor McQuillin, one of America\u2019s top pitchers and Palomino\u2019s best friend, had reopened her college recruitment because of her father\u2019s poor health. McQuillin looked at various different schools before picking the winner.

So with Palomino standing nearby, McQuillin dialed Mike Candrea\u2019s number and officially committed to the Arizona Wildcats\u2019 2016 recruiting class. The duo, teammates since they were 12, would suit up together at Hillenbrand Stadium.

Well, eventually.

The Wildcats open their season at 6 p.m. Thursday against Fordham both happy and \u2014 finally \u2014 healthy. A core of seniors, including ace Danielle O\u2019Toole, slugger Katiyana Mauga and sparkplug Mandie Perez, anchors the UA\u2019s lineup. And six talented freshmen could help the Wildcats reach the Women\u2019s College World Series for the first time since 2010, an epoch by Candrea\u2019s standards.

The most anticipated return may be that of Palomino, who \u2014 as the UA\u2019s lone redshirt freshman \u2014 is a compelling combination of both returner and newcomer.

Palomino arrived Tucson last year as one of the top young players in the country. She set Orange County\u2019s all-time home run record and won a national championship while at Mission Viejo. USA Softball named her its Junior Athlete of the Year.

Then, on the first day of fall practice, Palomino jumped to catch a ball in the outfield and landed awkwardly. Surgery was scheduled, and her freshman season was lost.

Palomino\u2019s parents flew in. McQuillin joined the Palominos at the hospital.

\u201cI basically sat her down and said, \u2018Hey this is reality, this is what happened, how are we going to fix it?\u2019 \u201d McQuillin said.

Palomino\u2019s physical struggles were dwarfed by the drop in self-confidence that came with the injury and corresponding rehabilitation.

\u201cIt just tore me down,\u201d Palomino said. \u201cNot being able to play, not being able to be on the field. It was just, \u2018Why do it anymore?\u2019\u201d

McQuillin listened, like always. And over the course of months, the friends navigated Palomino\u2019s rehab together.

And now?

\u201cShe\u2019s absolutely fully Alyssa,\u201d McQuillin said. \u201cThere\u2019s nothing different about her other than that she gets stronger and stronger every day. If anything, she\u2019s only grown more as an athlete.\u201d

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NEW YORK \u2014 Gold medalist Jennie Finch is pitching youth softball this spring as an ambassador for Major League Baseball.

The commissioner's office announced Wednesday that she'll join Cal Ripken Jr. and Ken Griffey Jr. as MLB youth ambassadors.

The former Arizona Wildcats star says she's excited to work on the grass-roots level to let \"girls know that MLB is passionate and truly cares about the sport of softball.\" It will return as an exhibition sport at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Finch will take part in events in Compton, California, in April, Oklahoma City in June and Miami and Vero Beach, Florida, in July. The softball RBI World Series begins Aug. 6 in Cincinnati.

Finch led Arizona to the 2001 NCAA softball title, won gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics and silver at the 2008 Beijing Games. She pitched for the Chicago Bandits in the National Pro Fastpitch league from 2005-10.

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