The plan was always for Janelle Meoño to succeed Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza in center field, but not like this.
The redshirt freshman was thrust into action in Tempe last weekend after Palomino-Cardoza suffered a knee injury in Friday’s series-opening loss to ASU. The Wildcats learned Tuesday that the sixth-year senior didn’t sustain any structural damage, and they can rest easy knowing they have a capable replacement until she is ready to return to the lineup.
Meoño, who had been starting in left field, was one of the bright spots for Arizona in an otherwise forgettable series loss against the Sun Devils. She had five hits, two doubles, two walks and two RBI.
She also made the most impressive defensive play of the weekend, robbing a homer to keep the Wildcats within in a run in the sixth inning of Sunday’s loss—what proved to be a critical run saved when, a half inning later, Dejah Mulipola ripped a game-tying RBI double.
“Right now I just can’t let the game get too big, play that same game that I’ve been playing all my life, and I feel comfortable with where I’m at,” Meoño said. “And until Alyssa gets back I’m gonna do my best out there and I just feel really good with how I’ve been in the outfield and in the box as well.”
A speedy slapper, Meoño leads the Pac-12 with a .452 batting average and is currently riding a 21-game hitting streak heading into this weekend’s home series vs. Utah. She has been a consistent force all season and managed to earn the leadoff spot, but now she has even more pressure on her as the leader of the outfield. Not the easiest task for a quiet underclassmen.
“She covers a lot of ground, she’s fast and so I really wasn’t concerned about that move at all,” head coach Mike Candrea said. “But there’s some elements of Palomino that you can’t replace and I’m looking forward to her getting back on the field and hopefully get her back to work so she can start playing the game at a high level again.”
The Wildcats are taking things one week at a time with Palomino-Cardoza, who was hitting .323 with six homers before the injury. It’s unclear when the All-American might return to the lineup but everyone is relieved that her career isn’t over.
She’s already torn both ACLs at Arizona and the prospect of her missing the end of her final season with another knee injury was gut-wrenching.
“Obviously with her past history, you kind of expect the worst and I was feeling a little bit better about her when I saw her walking the next day,” Candrea said. “I figured if it was a break or something that that wouldn’t be happening. And then I was just on pins and needles until we got her back to Tucson and got her checked out. And once I got the news that it was a bruise, right now we’re just trying to get her range of motion back and she’ll have a chance to play again, so that’s exciting news for us—and for her. … I thank the Good Lord that everything turned out all right.
“I mean, it was kind of out of our control and for a kid like her that’s gone through so much, she’s got such a big heart and such a good player but has just really had a tough time and has had to battle through some really crucial injuries that can sometimes change the way you can play the game. She just continues to do the body of work she needs to come back and I’m happy for her that this wasn’t an ending. … I don’t think I’ve ever had an athlete go through as much as she has to be able to be on the softball field and she’s got a definitely a place in my heart for the rest of my life because there’s not many athletes that have gone through what she has to represent this university and this athletic program.”