Izzy Pacho knows how dreams can be fulfilled and it goes beyond Arizona’s magical run to the Women’s College World Series, a trip that she admits the Wildcats “didn’t even think was going to happen, to be honest with you” before the postseason began.
“For me personally, when we won that last game (at Mississippi State in the Starkville Super Regional on Saturday), it didn’t hit me,” Pacho said before practice Tuesday at Oklahoma City, site of the WCWS. “I was super excited and super happy.
“Obviously, we won, but it didn’t hit me until last night or the night before. I was sitting in my room just talking to (Allie) Skaggs and it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, we did this.’ … We believe in each other, but we hit such a low that it was kind of hard to keep hope. We were sitting there talking to each other and I started tearing up.”
Arizona started 0-8 in the Pac-12 and finished tied for last in the conference at 8-16, but those numbers obviously are not indicative of what the Wildcats were all about this season under first-year coach Caitlin Lowe — an ideal leader who never flinched despite the criticism placed on her from the peanut gallery.
ARIZONA IN THE WOMEN’S COLLEGE WORLD SERIES
Thursday Opening Round Games
Game 1: 9 a.m. | Texas vs. No. 5 UCLA | ESPN
Game 2: 11:30 a.m. | No. 9 Northwestern vs. No. 1 Oklahoma | ESPN
Game 3: 4 p.m. | Oregon State vs. No. 14 Florida | ESPN
Game 4: 6:30 p.m. | Arizona vs. No. 7 Oklahoma State | ESPN
Lowe never made the excuse that she had to replace a legend such as Mike Candrea. Not once did she lay blame on her players for their shortcomings early in the conference season. Other coaches routinely fall into that trap of insecurity.
Lowe took the approach that passionate players such as Pacho deserved her unwavering respect and support through those difficult times. As the year went on, that bond made Arizona strong enough to make the unthinkable WCWS run possible.
Pacho became emotional as she continued to describe her conversation with Skaggs, a fellow Ironwood Ridge High School graduate.
“When I was talking with her, I looked back at my Little League self — my 6, 7, 8 year old self — and this is what I’ve always wanted to do,” Pacho said. “I wanted to come to the World Series, not only on the bench and being the best teammate I could be, but being a key player to this team that takes their team to that next level.”
Pacho then turned the conversation to a moment that will stand in time.
“I recently graduated (with an elementary education degree) and my mom (Lisa Dumlao) told me — she was crying — she was like, ‘When you were in the fifth grade, you came up to me, and you told me, ‘Mom, I’m gonna play softball at the University of Arizona. I’m gonna graduate from there. I’m gonna take my team to the World Series,'” Pacho said. “She was a wreck and crying, and even to me now, that makes me a little emotional, because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And so to be here I’m just so thankful for it.
“We’ve worked so hard. The fact that we’re here, it’s just an awesome feeling.”
Pacho is accustomed to championship softball. She played in four consecutive state championship games with Ironwood Ridge from 2015-18 with a title won in 2016 under the late Rich Alday. Before that, she played for the Sun Cats club organization and was routinely involved in championships.
She has gone to Oklahoma City with the Wildcats every possible year since she was a freshman in 2019 (COVID-19 canceled the chance for a 2020 postseason). Playing behind Dejah Mulipola and Sharlize Palacios at catcher in her first three years, she did not get a chance to play in the WCWS in 2019 and 2021.
With Palacios taking over the full-time starting duties at catcher this season, and Malia Martinez graduating, Pacho has experienced a breakthrough season at third base.
She started 21 games and played in 49 games in her first three seasons — batting .215 during that time because of the lack of playing continuity — and this season she has surpassed all those numbers. She has started 54 of the 57 games she has played and is batting .377 with 11 home runs and 37 RBIs.
She hit the game-winning home run in the eighth inning at Mississippi State last week and was one of four Arizona players to belt a home run against Illinois in the opening game of the Columbia (Mo.) Regional.
“She’s just been there every single day for this team showing us the way,” Lowe said after Pacho hit the game-winning home run in the 3-2 win at Mississippi State. “She’s a trailblazer that we follow and doesn’t get the respect that she deserves. I truly feel like she has been leading this team all year. So, not surprising and she was ready for her moment.”
Defensively, Pacho has only five errors this season, none in the last 13 games, further signifying a smooth transition to third base.
“In club ball, I took some balls at third base and shortstop and then I would do catcher drills as well,” Pacho said. “Obviously in club, I caught a lot. At Ironwood Ridge, I actually played shortstop my senior year of high school, so it’s kind of crazy.
“I mean, I love third base. It’s where I belong right now — anything I can do to help us win. Honestly, whether it’s being on the bench, it’s cheering, DP’ing (playing as a designated player), pinch-hitting, being the starting third baseman — whatever it is — I just want to win.”
Pacho said she took groundballs with Martinez at third base during practice in previous years so the experience was not altogether new. Lowe and her staff needed a player at that position with Martinez graduating, so Pacho was a natural fit although her background is mostly as a catcher.
“I did talk to Cate (Lowe) after last year, and I said, ‘I want to keep taking balls at third and I want to catch.’ We had talked about it, but it wasn’t like (Lowe said), ‘You’re my starting third baseman.’ You’ve got to earn everything,” Pacho said. “It kind of just happened where I was hitting pretty well and I was taking groundballs there. Shar’s a stud (at catcher). We knew we had her locked down back there. So it was just kind of like that (third base) spot was open. My bat was on. I just kind of fell into that spot and I love it.”
Achieving success at third base, paving the way for her increased impact on the lineup, is another example of Pacho fulfilling her objectives.
A significant goal for her is returning to her roots at Elvira Elementary School in the Sunnyside Unified School District and become a full-time teacher at the third-, fourth- or fifth-grade level at the completion of her softball career.
She has performed field work for her Arizona classes at Elvira and will be a student teacher for a fourth-grade class there in the fall semester as she works on her master’s degree.
“My fifth grade teacher, Andy Townsend, and I have a pretty good relationship,” Pacho said. “He’s kept in contact ever since fifth grade. He followed my class to Challenger (Middle School) and he was our assistant principal. And then after we graduated, he went back. And now he’s the principal at Elvira.
“I visit that school whenever I get the chance. I am so happy and thankful that I can do that. One of my goals in life is to give back as much as I can. To be able to go back to where I came from is also something that I hold on to a lot. I’m proud of where I’m from and proud of Tucson. So to go back to where I grew up and teach those kids and show them that you can follow whatever path you want is very special to me.”
She speaks of Elvira with a deep sense of pride. Lowe, Pacho’s teammates and her mom know what can happen when she becomes so passionate.
“There’s no community like Elvira,” Pacho said. “We are a family there and whether you’re new or you’re coming back to visit, Mr. Townsend always makes it such a welcoming place for everyone.
“If you want to go to college, if you want to go play a sport, it’s possible going to Elvira or Challenger. I am super excited. Just doing my student teaching there, it’s going to be an awesome experience.”
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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.