Two former Wildcats are coming home.
The Arizona softball team opens the four-day Wildcat Invitational Thursday against South Dakota, but it’s the second game of Friday’s doubleheader that the team is most looking forward to.
The ninth-ranked Wildcats will play the University of San Diego at 3 p.m. Two recent UA products, Danielle O’Toole and Katiyana Mauga, now serve on the Toreros’ coaching staff.
O’Toole, the Wildcats ace, is a first-year assistant coach. Mauga, the Pac-12’s all-time home run leader and second-most-prolific slugger in college softball history, is a volunteer assistant.
Sophomore Malia Martinez, says she’s “very excited” to see her former teammates. Martinez saw the pair at the team’s 2017 Pac-12 championship ring ceremony, and talked to them then about the Wildcat Invitational.
“I know they’re very excited to be home again,” Martinez said.
Martinez, meanwhile, is simply excited. She hit her first career home run in last week’s three-game series at Texas. After splitting the first two games against the Longhorns, Martinez went 4 for 4 in the third game of the series. Her two-run homer in the second inning woke up Arizona’s bats. The Wildcats won 10-2 to claim the series.
Martinez’s hot hitting is the result of years of hard work.
UA coach Mike Candrea first saw Martinez when she was a freshman at Poway High School north of San Diego.
Her hitting was “raw — very raw,” Candrea said.
It’s better now. Over the last 11 games, Martinez has hit .464; she went 6 for 9 against Texas.
The third baseman said she works on improving with every at-bat.
“I wanted to come back better than what I had been doing, so I was working with coach a lot with what I needed to do in the box,” Martinez said. “Being more calm in the box rather than being frazzled in there and being able to know which pitches are good for me to hit and be able to be comfortable without being stressed out in the box.”
The Wildcat Invitational features five schools — Arizona, USD, South Dakota, South Carolina-Upstate and Wisconsin — and 13 games. Weather should be warmer and drier than last month’s cold-and-rain-plagued Hillenbrand Invitational.
“I think we’re just going to go in with the same mindset of being able to play relaxed and play our game how we know how to,” Martinez said. “I’m excited. Hopefully there’s no rain or anything, so that’s going to be better.”