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Arizona softball: Palomino makes (long-awaited) successful debut

Alyssa Palomino scores in the first inning. (Photo courtesy of Arizona Athletics)

Arizona outfielder Alyssa Palomino didn’t swing at the first three pitches she saw in her college career, all balls.

It was the first inning Thursday night against Fordham at Hillenbrand Stadium. Runners on first and second, no out. One of the great college sluggers, Katiyana Mauga was on deck. Palomino, a lefty slugger, peered down at the third base coaching box to check for the sign from coach Mike Candrea.

“Honestly, he usually gives us the take sign, especially that early in the game,” she said.

But not right then, not to Palomino.

Swing it if you like it.

“Coach gave me the green light, so I said, ‘All right, anything in there, I’m swinging.’ … I was like, ‘All right, I got this.'”

That she did.

Palomino delivered a hard single to right in her first swing as a Wildcat, touching off a mad dash around the bases that, when the dust had settled, after throwing errors from the right fielder and catcher, ended with her sliding headfirst into home to give Arizona a 3-1 lead.

The 10th-ranked Cats went on to win 8-1, beating a Fordham team that had defeated No. 21 Baylor earlier in the day at the Hillenbrand Invitational.

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UA senior ace Danielle O’Toole battled early nerves and aggressive Fordham hitters, allowing three sharp singles and a run to her first three batters. She didn’t allow another hit until the top of the seventh. She struck out nine, walked one.

And Mauga, a senior third baseman, took another step toward home run records, launching a solo shot to lead off the third. She has 68 career home runs, 19 behind the school record held by Stacie Chambers, 22 behind the Pac-12 record and 27 away from the national record.

Palomino might someday be in that territory.

Palomino, the niece of former Arizona All-American Toni Mascarenas and granddaughter of former welterweight boxing champion Carlos Palomino, set the California high school state home record while at Mission Viejo High.

Her assault on college pitching was delayed after she suffered a torn ACL during 2015 fall practice. Healthy again, she debuted as the third hitter in the order, certain to get good pitches to hit ahead of Mauga, who further has protection with shortstop Mo Mercado batting behind her.

That’s the heart of this 2017 Arizona softball team, featuring a deeper lineup with nowhere for the pitcher to hide, nobody to safely pitch around.

“Alyssa is going to be one that they look at and worry about her, and then you have Kati right there,” Candrea said. “And I think the one that is really swinging the ball extremely well is Mo Mercado. I think Mo is swinging as well as anyone.”

Palomino hit the ball hard in her second at-bat, but lined out to right. She had a high fly out the next time up and walked in her final appearance.

“A lot, a lot, of butterflies,” she said about putting on the Arizona uniform for the first time in a real game.

“It was probably the best feeling ever. Taking the last year and half off from an actual season definitely takes a toll on somebody. Just getting to be out there with this team felt amazing.

“We came out strong, and that’s what we predicted for this team. We’re just going to keep it rolling from here. Now, it’s time to get down to it.”

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The Hillenbrand Invitational continues through Sunday. Here is a link to the schedule.

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