In a silent moment waiting for Arizona coach Mike Candrea to arrive for the postgame press conference Sunday, Jessie Harper leaned forward and asked reporters, “So, how is your day going?”
Obviously not as good as hers.
Harper had a historic day, hitting three home runs for Arizona in the Wildcats’ 12-3 win over Auburn in the Tucson Regional championship Sunday at Hillenbrand Stadium. The victory enables No. 6 Arizona (45-12) to host No. 11 Ole Miss (41-18) in a Super Regional next weekend at Hillenbrand Stadium (dates and times are to be announced).
On her way to the locker room right after the game, Harper stopped to take photos with a boy celebrating a birthday and she got out of her seat at the press conference table during the wait for Candrea to autograph a ball for a young girl standing nearby.
Her unfazed, unassuming behavior is a reason why Harper leads the NCAA with 28 home runs and is in the top 10 nationally with 69 RBIs after her 5-for-5 day with five RBIs.
Nothing gets to her head. She claims to not be a home run hitter. You get the feeling she actually believes that.
“What coach says — keeping our butterflies in formation and not let anything get too big for us — I’m happy with our performance today and I’m ready to go into next weekend,” said Harper, who ranks fourth in Arizona history with her 28 home runs tied with Jenny Dalton (1995).
Laura Espinoza holds the record with 37 home runs in 1995 and Espinoza also had the third-most with 30 in 1994. Stacie Chambers is second with 31 in 2009.
“The great thing about our tradition here is you get to get in line because probably somebody has done it,” Candrea said. “She will definitely go down in the record books in the history of Arizona softball. She’s not done. She’s only a junior.
“It’s one thing to have power but it’s another thing when you can put that power on display in games, especially big games, like today.”
Arizona Career Home Run Leaders[table “” not found /]
What makes Harper particularly dangerous is she is a good hitter overall, batting .370 this season. Candrea calls her, “a good, pure hitter.”
“She has good hands, stays behind the ball well, and makes good adjustments for the most part,” he said. “She’s pretty phenomenal when she’s seeing the ball well. She hits to every part of the ball park, too.”
Harper can’t be referred to as only a slugger although her three-home run feat is a first for an Arizona player since Hallie Wilson against Stanford on April 26, 2015.
Her five-hit performance is the first for the Wildcats since Sam Banister against Texas A&M on Feb. 27, 2009.
Jessie Harper hits three home runs and then stops to take a picture with a kid celebrating a birthday. A day both she and he will never forget. pic.twitter.com/guiMx5ujgw
“I mean, I’m not really thinking too much about it as long as I can help the team out,” Harper said when asked about her three home runs, the first time she’s accomplished that in her career.
She then deflected attention on herself commenting about Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza’s 16th home run that gave Arizona a 9-3 lead in the fourth inning.
“Alyssa hit that huge, monstrous bomb … that thing went forever,” she said. “But, as long as I can really help the team and our team feeds off it. …
“We always say, ‘Let’s pass the bat. Get the next person up to bat.’ That’s what we live by.”
Standouts from the game Jessie Harper and Alyssa Denham ready to talk to the media. pic.twitter.com/mD5s9ECDbJ
The potential for Harper to be a power hitter in college was evident with her high school numbers at West Ranch High School in Stevenson Ranch, Calif. (in Los Angeles County). As a senior, she had 11 home runs with a .904 slugging percentage.
“She’s always had good power,” Candrea said. “When she played for the (club team So Cal) Choppers I definitely saw the bat speed but the biggest thing that I saw of her was I always thought she was a bad-ball hitter.
“Growing up, there was never a pitch she saw that she didn’t like. She could hit. She could hit the rise ball. At the college level, that’s a big blessing if you can stay on top that.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.