The moment never gets too big for Sharlize Palacios.
Pushed into duty when Dejah Mulipola opted to train with the U.S. Olympic Team rather than play for the Arizona Wildcats last spring, Palacios — a UA freshman catcher — stepped up.
Palacios hit .324 with a .412 slugging percentage and was steady behind the plate, posting a .990 fielding percentage while committing just one error, during the Wildcats' pandemic-shortened softball season. Palacios played in 13 of the Wildcats' 25 games because of a pair of injuries. She injured her left thumb early in the season and, on March 1, suffered a season-ending concussion following a collision at home plate.
Her performance led to talk that Palacios is the heir apparent to Mulipola, one of the world's top young catchers. Palacios said she was "honored" by the chatter.
“To even be put in the same sentence with her is amazing,” she said. “I remember my first fall game — my first home run was an in-the-park home run — and Dejah came up to me, grabbed me and said, ‘Oh my gosh, my first home run was an in-the-park home run, too.’
“I always thought it was so cool how Dejah was able to walk in and just be ready. That was one of my biggest goals coming into college is to be ready and be there if coach (Mike Candrea) needed me. To be able to say that I did that, just like Dejah, is a great honor.”
Palacios is used to following Olympic catchers.
Her older sister, Sashel, was a standout catcher at Arizona State who now plays behind the plate for Team Mexico. Sashel Palacios recently completed the inaugural season of Athletes Unlimited, the new player-run professional softball league outside of Chicago. She knew her younger sister would shine at Arizona right away.
“I had no doubt in my mind that she was going to step on that field and make an impact whether it was behind the plate, at first, offensively as a DH, she just has that in her,” Sashel Palacios said. “She’s such a light on the field and can literally lighten up an infield and a team and I didn't expect anything less from her. I really do see Sharlize ending up in that list of greats at UA, because I really do think that Sharlize is so special, and she's so capable of doing that. …
"I also told her you need to take in everything that Dejah tells you, learn and be a sponge so that when your name is called you are ready to go. I think that Sharlize is just legit. She does such a great, top job of being a team player and understanding her role. And her role was to step up big for her team. I think that she handled it so classy and so elegantly. It was such a joy to watch her behind the dish."
The Palacios sisters picked up the catching bug from their dad, Francisco, who played baseball in a Sunday league. Both were drawn to the impact that a good catcher can have.
“You’re always in every single play. You're so focused on the game. And I feel like you're a leader back there — I loved being a leader ever since I was younger,” Sharlize Palacios said. “I just liked watching my older sister be a catcher. And me as the little sister, I always looked up to her. I wanted to follow everything she did and do it just the way she did it.”
The sisters have their differences. Sashel is 5 feet 3 inches tall, while Sharlize — the UA catcher — is 5-7. Sashel relishes playing defense, while Sharlize loves hitting.
Sharlize Palcacios jokes that if the sisters combined talents, they’d be the best player in the game.
The sisters worked on their physical and mental skills this spring, when the pandemic pushed Sharlize Palacios back to her hometown of Chula Vista, California, a suburb of San Diego.
They worked together on footwork and throwing to bases. They talked about the nuances of the position, too.
“I think we had a lot of time to sit back and kind of compare our mentalities,” Sharlize Palacios said. “(Sashel) is the more relaxed, experienced player, I would say, and I'm barely getting into my collegiate experience. I'm a lot more tense and put pressure on myself. She wants me to be able to enjoy the game, which I do, but enjoy it more and make it more fun. That's what I've been working on a lot more.
“…She asked me a lot of questions about hitting and my mentality up there. And I asked her a lot of questions about catching. I think that's how we balance each other out. When we are home, it's like, each of us have these attributes that we can help each other with. It helps keep us focused during training, especially when we were in quarantine. It was like we had a coach there with us the whole time.”
The sisters, while competitive, have pushed aside both the sibling — and school — rivalries. (Sharlize Palacios turned down a scholarship offer form ASU because "I wanted to make my own name rather than (be) Sashel's little sister.)
They say their are each other’s biggest fans — well, besides their parents. Sashel Palacios wears Arizona’s colors and cheers on her little sister. Her familiarity with the UA helps her on Team Mexico, which includes former Wildcats Danielle O’Toole and Taylor McQuillin.
“To know how much they care about my sister because she's at that program, for them to know my family and where I came from, and even though I'm the Devil, and they are the Wildcats … I cannot say enough great things about that program and what they do for Sharlize and how they make her feel on and off the off the field,” Sashel Palacios said. “As an older sister, as somebody that knows the grind and knows how tough being a student-athlete is, I appreciate everything that they're doing for her. The least that I can do as an appreciative sister is wear red, white and blue and rep the Wildcats for her for five years that she's there."