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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


The X-Factor: Mercado as valuable as any Wildcat

Pearl Dixon

Arizona batter Mo Mercado (11) during the Wildcats’ softball game against the Texas Longhorns on March 5 at Hillenbrand Stadium. The Wildcats completed a three-game sweep of the Longhorns on Sunday. 

The Arizona Wildcats softball team is red-hot to begin 2017. The ‘Cats are 18-1, they’ve outscored their opponents 154-20 and their only loss came in a 1-0 battle against No. 1 Florida State.

Ace Danielle O’Toole looks to already be in mid-season form, Katiyana Mauga still has the power reputation every moment she steps in the batter’s box and several freshmen are contributing for Arizona. Among all the talent on the loaded roster, there’s a different Wildcat who is making an impact.

Senior Mo Mercado is the Wildcats’ x-factor. Of all the talent Arizona has, Mercado would be the toughest to replace if she went down because of her ability at the plate and on defense.

Mercado is currently second on the team in batting average (.481) and has a gaudy on-base plus slugging (OPS) of 1.234. Arizona competed in the Mary Nutter Classic in the last week of February, where they faced Florida State, and Mercado had a breakout offensive performance.

After batting .846 with a home run and 11 RBIs during the weekend, she swept the National Player of the Week awards. The National Fastpitch Coaches Association, USA Softball, College Sports Madness and DI Fast Pitch News recognized Mercado as the top player in the country.

Mercado even impressed Arizona head coach Mike Candrea, who has seen his share of big offensive weekends in his time at Arizona.

“I can go back 32 years and I can’t remember a lot of weekends that were a lot better than what she did as far as production offensively,” Candrea said.

What’s most impressive about Mercado being recognized for her bat? As a shortstop, she’s known for her glove.

“I would say my pride for myself as a player definitely lies more with my defense,” Mercado said. “I definitely say defense is my priority and my bread and butter.”

Mercado was an All-Pac-12 defensive team selection in 2016 after posting a .942 fielding percentage. With a ground ball pitcher like O’Toole throwing almost every other day, Mercado’s presence at shortstop can’t be understated.

“I can’t be the pitcher I am without them,” O’Toole said of her defense. “I can’t be who I am, and I can’t do what I do if they’re [Arizona defense] not there. It’s really nice having [Mercado] kind of picking up the energy level of the defense and getting them to vibe off of her.”

Mercado’s experience playing second base during her first two seasons in Tucson behind another Arizona defensive standout Kellie Fox has made her the leader of the defense. With her experience at second base, she’s been able to help Arizona freshmen Reyna Carranco and Jessie Harper learn how to play second base at the collegiate level.

“Definitely,” O’Toole said when asked if Mercado is the leader of the defense. “As soon as all the freshmen come in, she tells them what to do and they do it. It’s nice having that at experience at [shortstop].”

With Mercado’s breakout season at the plate right now, she’s Arizona’s most valuable player.

The senior has always had defensive prowess but hasn’t always had this much success at the plate. Mercado is known for being overly aggressive early in counts and admitted she knows “that’s a big way I’m perceived in the Pac-12.”

The mental aspect of softball, especially at the plate, is as important as any physical tools. Mercado is putting her physical gifts together with a strong mindset this season.

“When you start thinking about how you do things, the game gets really quick on you,” Candrea said. “I think [Mercado] is showing a lot of maturity right now to realize that it’s a lot more than that. I always tell [the team] it’s the six inches between your ears; that’s the most important thing in playing this game.”

The Wildcats have aspirations of making it back to the Women’s College World Series since, somewhere they have not been since 2010. They came up one game short last season, losing in the super regionals to eventual national runner-up Auburn University. The Wildcats couldn’t come up with the big hit they needed, but if they can get back to that point this season, Mercado will be ready to come through for her team.

“All of us want to be the hero,” Mercado said. “It’s definitely nice knowing I have people behind me who can pick me up [in the lineup], but like I said, we all like to be the hero of the moment.”

Mercado has been a consistent defender throughout her career, and this season is no different. But if Mercado can maintain her pace at the plate, she could make all the difference for Arizona come June.

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