Tucson has its array of top-flight youth softball club teams (Desert Thunder, Oro Valley Suncats, Arizona Cats, etc.) and its high school powerhouses (including two-time defending state champs Salpointe and Sabino), so it is natural for hundreds of aspiring players in this city to have the desire to play for Mike Candrea at Arizona.
The odds against that happening are not the same as a young football player wanting to make it to the NFL, but they are daunting nonetheless.
“I promise you if we have good players in Tucson, we like to keep them, but on the other hand, it’s not an exact science when you’re recruiting,” Candrea said Monday in a ZOOM press conference from Fayetteville, Ark., where Arizona eliminated Arkansas in the Super Regional on Saturday.
The Wildcats (41-13) will depart for Oklahoma City on Tuesday to prepare for their opening-round game Thursday at 4 p.m. against Alabama (50-7) in the Women’s College World Series.
Arizona’s present roster, talented enough to take Candrea to consecutive Women’s College World Series appearances, has 21 players and two of them are native Tucsonans — Carlie Scupin of Tucson High and Izzy Pacho of Ironwood Ridge.
That’s 9.5 percent of the roster, actually a decent percentage for a school not situated in talent-rich California.
Oregon has only one player from Eugene. Washington does not have a player on its roster from Seattle proper.
Utah has three players from Tucson and none from Salt Lake City.
The fact that CDO’s Halle Morris and Ellessa Bonstrom and Marana’s Katie Faulk are with the Utes ties into the reality Candrea brought up, that many softball prospects also want to “get the hell out of Tucson,” to apply their skills elsewhere.
The Class of 2022 is an example of that with four prospects committed to other Division I programs — Catalina Foothills pitcher Kyrie Denny (Cornell) and shortstop Rylie Krane (Wisconsin), CDO utility player Alina Felix (Nebraska) and Ironwood Ridge catcher Haidyn Warner (also to Nebraska).
Salpointe shortstop Logan Cole is a local product who will join Candrea’s program. She made her commitment last September.
Two others on Arizona’s current roster attended Ironwood Ridge last year — Devyn Netz and Allie Skaggs — after transferring from out of state.
Candrea mentioned that “by all means we want to keep every good player in Tucson and at the U of A” based on this criteria: “When we have a kid in Tucson that can play, and that we think can help us and can fit into our culture and that can have a place.”
“Sometimes you can have the greatest player in the city of Tucson, but if I’ve got a Jess Harper at shortstop, as a sophomore, it’s kind of crazy to bring in a kid that’s gonna be sitting for two years,” he added. “Sometimes it’s a matter of what your roster needs are.”
Candrea realized when Scupin attended his camps while she was in grade school and middle school that it was a must to find a place for her. She is that greatest player in Tucson, and arguably the state the last two years, that Candrea talked about.
When asked of his first impression of seeing her play in those camps at Hillenbrand, he said, “Wow,” with a chuckle. “I think that was the word.”
“We tested her bat speed, and I hadn’t seen bat speed like that since Jenny Dalton,” he added. “That excites you. As I followed her through her career, I noticed that she hit good pitching better than she hit bad pitching, and that was another big plus.
“It didn’t take long for me to realize that we wanted her in a Wildcat uniform because she’s big, she’s strong, and she’s very athletic for her size. I think she will be a very, very good hitter for a long time.”
Tucson High grad Carlie Scupin comes through with a two-run single. Arizona three outs away from the WCWS with a 4-1 lead top of seventh. pic.twitter.com/Nt5k6B8cwK
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) May 29, 2021
Scupin committed to Arizona as an eighth grader in 2017, which was a common occurrence for Candrea before recent NCAA recruiting rules required coaches to not contact prospects until midway through their sophomore year in high school. They also can not offer scholarships until August 1 of the player’s junior year.
Candrea said he “hated” the old system that allowed scholarship offers and commitments before players reached high school “because we were making decisions on kids that hadn’t even developed. You didn’t even know what the final product was gonna be.”
Scupin is an exception. Candrea knew he wanted her at Arizona at first sight and the feeling was mutual from Scupin.
From a very young age, she regularly attended games at Hillenbrand Stadium with her grandparents Chuck and Judi Davis.
“It means a lot being from Tucson, being able to play for this team, play for Arizona, play for Coach Candrea,” Scupin said. “I think it is a dream of every little girl, especially little girls from Tucson.”
Many girls from Tucson will watch her play in the WCWS, which will impact their aspirations.
Former @thms_athletics Carlie Scupin @carliescupin former @CDOSoftball @AmphiSchools Halle Morris, Ellessa Bonstrom, Bailey Thompson & Former @SahuaroSoftball Lauren Wedman earn collegiate honors https://t.co/97Tysci3tR pic.twitter.com/4LEmSb2gC4
— Andy Morales (@AndyMorales8) May 22, 2021
Scupin mentioned her grandparents, who are season-ticket holders, and an aunt and uncle will be in attendance. Her parents, Kevin and Trina, and brother Nicholas and sisters Emma and Faith will not be able to make it because Trina is having a medical procedure performed.
“Of course, my family will be cheering on from home and be able to watch it on TV and everything,” she said.
Her grandparents being in Oklahoma City may bring her and the Wildcats some good fortune.
“It’s funny because I was talking to my grandparents and they’re huge Arizona softball fans, and they used to go to the World Series pretty regularly,” Scupin said. “They were saying that the last time they went, Arizona won, so they’re all super excited to go.”
Scupin does not recall the first time she spoke with Candrea, but she always had an admiration.
“I do remember my first camp that I went to (at Arizona), and I was probably seven or eight,” she said. “And then once I started playing travel ball and club ball, I was invited to his camp.”
It’s important to her “just having that relationship” with him, she said.
Scupin’s background with those camps, travel ball with the Oro Valley Suncats and playing at Tucson High for coach Bert Otero, has made her one of the more mature freshmen on the team.
Former @thms_athletics softball standout @carliescupin with the go-ahead two-run single in Arizona’s 4-3 win over Oregon in the second game of a doubleheader. @Pac12Network picked her as the player of the game. pic.twitter.com/e8S845rgxv
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) May 9, 2021
Her first Super Regional did not faze her. She had a crucial two-run single in the sixth that subdued Arkansas in the 4-1 win that clinched a berth to the WCWS. She was 4 for 6 with two RBIs in the two wins over the Razorbacks after going 3 for 5 with a run and an RBI in the Tucson Regional final against Ole Miss.
She is known for her home runs after hitting 44 while batting .623 during her career at Tucson High.
She has nine home runs for Arizona this year and has not gone deep in her last 14 games, but she has batted well regardless, showing her maturity.
She is so beyond her years that Harper, a fifth-year senior chasing the NCAA career home run record, is in awe.
“When Carlie first came in here, I was kind of blown away,” Harper said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this girl’s so strong.’ She can hit the ball so far. At practice, I think in the beginning of the year, she put a few balls on the Gittings Building back there, and I just kind of blown away. I was like, ‘Oh, my goodness, where did this girl come from?'”
Harper said she and Scupin bounced hitting ideas off each other while working in the batting cages every Monday morning.
She is enamored by Scupin and Pacho because they are “the girls from Tucson that really get to represent Tucson” at the WCWS.
“But at the end of the day … I think that Tucson is part of my home, too,” Harper said. “Even though I did not totally grow up here, Tucson will be forever in my heart.”
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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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District