If the University of Arizona softball team hasn’t already thought of it, someone should suggest those two words as the slogan for next season.
There are at least six players that would surely agree to the idea. Those are the six seniors who just announced they would be returning for the 2021 season.
They are taking the NCAA up on its offer to grant spring sports athletes an additional year of eligibility, since the COVID-19 pandemic cut the season short.
The group has been the foundation for the program’s recent success and the players cover positions all over the field, as well as in the circle. The two pitchers include Alyssa Denham and Mariah Lopez. Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza will be back in center field. And the other three anchor one of the best infields in the Pac-12, with Reyna Carranco at second base; Malia Martinez at third; and Jessie Harper, a shortstop who can also play on the bag at first.
Their combined contributions while in a Wildcat uniform have been substantial. The pitching duo, who have been in the circle for a combined 790 innings, have put together a 110-6 record and posted a 1.80 ERA. The other four have provided much of the team’s offense, with a combined .344 batting average, 597 RBIs, and 167 home runs.
During their time in Tucson, the Wildcats are 165-42 and spent 43 weeks ranked among the top 10 teams in the nation. They have helped the Cats to a berth in three super regionals, as well as a trip to the 2019 Women’s College World Series.
But this season, they missed out on a chance to return to the WCWS when the season was cut short right before conference play was ready to begin. And, from what they had accomplished to that point, it was reasonable to anticipate a second straight trip to Oklahoma City.
The Wildcats entered the season ranked in the top five nationally and were pegged to finish third in the challenging Pac-12 Conference that includes defending national champion UCLA. Their roster included five All-conference players from the previous season.
Arizona was one of the hottest teams in the nation prior to the mid-March shutdown. The Cats were 22-3 and on a roll, winning their last 11 straight games – the nation’s fourth-longest winning streak.
Harper and Martinez were terrorizing pitchers. In the final game, against Saint Joseph’s, Harper blasted her fourth round-trip in six games, and Martinez notched her third homer in six games.
Harper and Palomino-Cardoza are the NCAA leaders in career home runs, Harper with 75 and Palomino-Cardoza with 61. And Lopez, who is 63-4 for her pitching career, leads the nation with a .939 winning percentage.
Lopez (11-2) and Denham (9-1) are transfers into the program. But the other four returning seniors have spent their entire college careers as Wildcats. And that’s why head coach Mike Candrea, who has spent the last 35 years of his coaching career at Arizona, is especially happy to see his seniors returning.
“I cannot think of a group,” said Candrea, “that is any more deserving of this opportunity to end their careers the right way.”
And, thanks to an understanding NCAA, they’ll get that chance.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)