Greg Hansen: From Pima tryout to UA, Tucson outfielder defies odds

2013-07-03T00:00:00Z 2013-07-03T13:05:28Z Greg Hansen: From Pima tryout to UA, Tucson outfielder defies oddsGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 03, 2013 12:00 am  • 

In 2012, Cynthia Pelayo was so deep on the Pima College softball bench that by the Aztecs' 12th game, she had one at-bat. It wasn't a team looking for help, either; PCC would go on to finish third in the nation.

On instinct, or out of the kindness of his soul, Pima coach Armando Quiroz gave Pelayo a one-game audition as a starter. She hit a grand slam in her first at-bat.

But it wasn't a star-is-born moment at all. Pelayo didn't play for the next five games. In fact, she didn't start again until the Aztecs' 30th game of the season. Opportunity struck only when a teammate was injured.

"I had to wait a long time.'' Pelayo says now. "I remember thinking, 'I can do this; I just need a chance.' "

By year's end she was a second team All-American, hitting .440.

This season, as a sophomore, Pelayo hit exactly .440 again. Who does that? She was again a second-team NJCAA All-American. A week ago, she accepted a scholarship to play for the Arizona Wildcats.

Do you realize the scope of this transaction? In 25 years, UA coach Mike Candrea has pursued and signed just one scholarship-level Pima player, Ashley Monceaux.

The odds of this Pelayo-to-the-Wildcats scenario become even more improbable when you learn she attended Tucson's Vision Charter School, which doesn't have a softball team, and that she showed up unannounced and unknown at a mass Pima College tryout camp in the fall of 2011.

She made the team, in part, because a wise old assistant coach, Robert Campillo, 38 years in the business, was impressed by her athletic ability and the way she would run down a fly ball.

"I told (Quiroz), 'You need to get her,' " says Campillo. "I worked with her almost every day, on hitting and conditioning. She had that drive,. She had that 'I want to prove those people wrong who say I'm never going to play' drive.

"She learned so quickly. She has been an All-American. Twice."

As impressive as her lifetime .440 average is, Pelayo qualified for an academic scholarship at Pima, and part of one at Arizona. She had a Pima GPA of 3.9 and will enter the UA's Eller College of Management next semester.

Beyond that, her goal will be to become a starting outfielder at Arizona. Only seven Tucson-area players have been full-time players for Candrea. Pelayo is perhaps the least likely candidate ever to attempt it.

But remember this: In Arizona's NCAA elimination game this season, the Wildcats started a makeshift outfield that included a .129-hitting freshman and a converted shortstop.

"I believe she would've started for the UA last year," says Quiroz, who fiercely believes in Pelayo's ability and character. "The odds are stacked against her, but that's nothing new."

Pelayo seems undaunted by any occasion; she hit. 412 in this year's NJCAA finals. A year ago, she ran into the outfield fence chasing a fly ball, breaking her nose.

"She's not afraid," says PCC assistant coach Gene Gonzales. "She'll go get anything. She's so smooth. The UA will see that right away."

Pelayo initially committed to play at UTEP, but she played her way above the midlevel of college softball by stealing 23 bases and rapping 36 extra-base hits in the nation's most difficult JC softball conference.

Says Campillo: "I don't think (Arizona) knows what it has yet. It doesn't pick too many Pima players, but I really think she's going to start. Once they see the way she tracks down the ball, once they see her mechanics and her drive, they'll start to understand."

Pelayo probably doesn't appreciate the help-is-on-the-way chatter from her coaches, but it's understandable that the Aztec coaches are so outspoken.

"I'm biased, but I would pick her over anyone in a game we had to win," says Quiroz.

He believes Pelayo hasn't gotten her due, remaining an under-the-radar prospect, which isn't unusual at Pima.

For her part, Pelayo understands she'll start as just another face on the UA roster, with almost no national reputation. Candrea's freshman class includes Eva Watson, an outfielder from Virginia who he has compared to former UA All-American Caitlin Lowe.

"At the beginning, I really didn't think I'd make it this far," Pelayo says. "UTEP really made me a good offer, but then, almost like a miracle, (UA assistant coach) Stacy Iveson showed up and said, 'I want you to come play for us.'

"They've given me this great opportunity. The rest is up to me."

Contact Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4362. On Twitter @ghansen711

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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