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The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona softball opens season with Hillenbrand Invitational

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Arizona Athletics
Arizona outfielder Katiyana Mauga (34) steps back to catch a fly ball at the NCAA Regionals on May 15, 2015. Mauga is expected to lead the Wildcats’ lineup this season.

The 2016 Arizona softball season is set to begin this weekend when the UA hosts the Hillenbrand Invitational at Hillenbrand Stadium. 

The tournament gets underway Thursday evening and continues through Sunday afternoon.

The Wildcats open the season ranked No. 13 in the nation and were picked to finish third in the Pac-12 Conference. 

New season brings different look

The team will have a much different look than in previous years when the offense carried the team and lit up the scoreboard.

The losses of All-Americans Chelsea Goodacre, Kellie Fox and Hallie Wilson have opened up plenty of space in one of the Pac-12’s best lineups from last year. 

Instead, the Wildcats will look to end their five year Women’s College World Series drought behind a bolstered pitching rotation. 

The team had a school-worst 4.34 ERA on the season last year and emphasized building a stronger rotation for the 2016 campaign. 

Instant improvements

The recruitment of highly rated left-hander Taylor McQuillin has immediately improved the quality of the Wildcats rotation. McQuillin comes to Tucson with some very high praise from head coach Mike Candrea.

“She reminds me a lot of a ‘Cat’ Osterman, someone who really spins the ball well,” Candrea said. “No pitch she throws is the same.”

In addition to McQuillin, the team will get its first sight of redshirt junior transfer Danielle O’Toole. 

O’Toole was one of the top pitchers in the Mountain West Conference in the 2013 and 2014 seasons,before sitting out last year. 

O’Toole is also left-handed, giving the team two top of the rotation lefties.

Veterans taking over 

Last year’s ace Michelle Floyd returns this season along with Nancy Bowling, who missed all of last season due to injury. Another freshman, Tamara Statman, rounds out the five-woman rotation. 

Even with the departures of their top offensive players, the Wildcats still have a powerful lineup, led by USA Softball Player of the Year watch list contender Katiyana Mauga. The junior is already one of the most prolific home run hitters in school history, smashing 46 homers in her first two years. 

Finding someone to protect Mauga in the lineup will be key. 

Freshman Alyssa Palomino seemingly was going to fit this role perfectly, but suffered an ACL tear on the first day of fall practice—an injury that will sideline her for the entire season. 

Nonetheless, there are plenty of options for Candrea to choose from, including senior Lauren Young. 

“Lauren Young is going to have to step up and give us some more consistency,” Candrea said.

Setting the lineup

Hillary Edior and Bowling should also add some middle of the lineup punch, but the top of the lineup could be a strength as well. 

Mandie Perez will take over the leadoff role, replacing Wilson. Perez had a fantastic fall, according to Candrea, and is expected to be among the team’s most consistent batters. 

The defense will see a lot of turnover as well.

Mauga will move from right field to third base this year, and Mo Mercado will move from second base to shortstop, where she was originally recruited to play.

Meanwhile, Young will move behind the plate—a new position for her. 

The team may very well have nine new starters defensively on the diamond. 

Arizona’s reshaped roster takes the field Thursday at 6 p.m., when the Wildcats host Southern Utah. 


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