After ending Caitlin Lowe’s first season on a high note, what lies ahead for the Wildcats?
It had all the makings for a disappointing season from the perspective of Arizona’s history. Tying for last in the Pac-12. Struggling to put its pitching together for most of the season. Injuries that kept key players out of the lineup for weeks on end. Three weeks changed the narrative around Arizona softball in 2022 as the team pushed through the postseason to land at the Women’s College World Series.
The Wildcats were an extremely young team this year. Their roster included just three seniors. Bailey Thompson was only in Tucson for one year. Hanah Bowen missed several games due to injuries and off-field concerns. Peanut Martinez didn’t play as much in her final season as she had earlier.
As for the rest of the roster, there wasn’t a lot of experience there. Izzy Pacho, a redshirt junior, had years in the program, but she had very little time on the field. Most of the rest of the roster consisted of freshmen, true sophomores, and redshirt sophomores.
It took a long time to get things to come together. Even in the final series of the regular season, Arizona left plenty of room open to question whether they would end up going to the postseason for a 35th straight time. The committee likely looked at their resume, not just this season but over the past 34, and decided this was a team that was going to get a shot.
That chance was all Arizona needed. They ran through the regionals and super regionals with a 5-0 record while playing the entire postseason on the road. An unlikely third straight trip to the WCWS was the reward. In Oklahoma City, they were competitive in their three games despite having to play two of three games against teams located within six hours of the event.
Perhaps the most important part of the postseason was seeing the development of Devyn Netz in the circle. In April, Arizona pitching coach Taryne Mowatt-McKinney said that she was seeing development from all of her pitchers, but they were not yet translating into games.
“ I think what we’re doing in the bullpen has been great,” Mowatt-McKinney said. “I think we’ve made progress and we’ve really worked on things that are going to help us in the long run. And the good thing is as long as we have games, we have the opportunity to get better.”
One of those things that turned out to help in the long run was a changeup from Netz. Her ability to be more deceptive in the circle was a huge reason she dropped her ERA to 1.22 in the postseason. That can only spell good things in her junior season and beyond as she takes over from Bowen as the most-experienced pitcher on the staff.
Netz will go into next season as the presumptive ace of the Arizona staff, but the Wildcats also got a lot of experience for Madi Elish this season. The freshman did not pitch in the postseason, but she had 31 appearances and seven starts in 2022. She faced some of the top teams, including getting a start at UCLA.
With 15 of the 18 players on the roster having eligibility left, there’s a good reason to believe Arizona will have most of its roster back next season. Players who didn’t get much time on the field or may feel blocked may look to the transfer portal. In the current situation, the most likely to do that are pitcher Jessie Fontes, infielder Amber Toven, outfielder Allie Enright, and utility Giulia Koutsoyanopulos, but none of the four have indicated a desire to leave so far.
As for those who did see a lot of playing time this season, Pacho was the biggest surprise. The redshirt junior has always been praised for her leadership, but she finally got the opportunity to show what she can do on the field this season. She was a stalwart on defense at third base and hit .360, the fourth-highest batting average on the team.
Both Pacho and sophomore Allie Skaggs were offensively consistent throughout the season. Skaggs ended the year with a .367 average and 24 home runs, tying for the Pac-12 lead in long balls. Carlie Scupin and Sharlize Palacios had dips in production during the toughest part of the Pac-12 season, but both were able to recover and end with batting averages of .369 and .326, respectively.
Arizona will hope to see continued development from freshman Paige Dimler and sophomore Jasmine Perezchica. Dimler became Arizona’s starting right-fielder as the season wore on and hit 10 home runs. Perezchica patrolled left field and took over the leadoff spot for part of the season. She led the Wildcats with a .371 batting average and should probably get a look as the leadoff hitter again next season.
The Wildcats also have an accomplished group of recruits coming in. Considering the struggles in the circle during the regular season this year, the most important member of that group is pitcher Sydney Somerndike.
Somerndike was just crowned the CIF Southern Section Division I Player of the Year. She has been highly praised by Mowatt-McKinney, who likes both Somerndike’s mindset and her ability to get strikeouts.
— Villa Park Softball (24-5) (@VPSoftball) June 7, 2022
Somerndike and fellow incoming Wildcat Logan Cole were both named first-team All-Americans by Extra Innings Softball and second team by MaxPreps after their junior years. Somerndike was also the California Gatorade Player of the Year in 2021. The five-player class was ranked No. 6 by Extra Innings Softball.
The Wildcat faithful can now rest assured that Lowe was the right choice to lead Arizona into the post-Mike Candrea era. Her team never stopped fighting even after a disappointing regular season. Her calm demeanor seems to inspire a similar calmness in her team. The ability of this year’s team to rise above the difficult times and reach the highest level of their sport can only reassure recruits that Arizona is still a great place to play softball even without Candrea.
Fall ball is in four months. This run can only feed the players’ desire to get back on the field, and the Wildcats have the tools to come back even stronger next season.