Arizona’s softball team on Monday went directly from Columbia, Mo., to Starkville, Miss., on an 1 1/2-hour charter flight rather than return home to Tucson first before its Friday opener at 9 a.m. in the Super Regional at Mississippi State.
The reason: to further bond and become acclimated with the humidity at Starkville this time of year.
“It would have been go back to Tucson, practice for a day or two and then get on another long flight, or stay in the humidity, in this environment, in this time zone and get to hang out together,” Arizona coach Caitlin Lowe said from the team hotel in Starkville on Tuesday.
“We talked about this in the middle of the season that we played a lot of home games at the beginning of the year and we didn’t get to bond as a team. Now, it’s like we’re playing catch up and we’re getting to hang out together.”
— Arizona Softball (@ArizonaSoftball) May 24, 2022
Lowe mentioned her team is going to catch a movie together on Tuesday night. That rarely happens through the course of the season, especially if the Wildcats are at home and staying apart from each other.
“They are hanging out with each other more away from the softball field and it’s become fun,” Lowe added. “I think if we traveled back to Tucson, they’d all separate and then just come back to the field.
“It’s kind of nice, you know? We’re getting to have meals together and and see different cities together. It’s just bringing us closer and closer I think after last weekend, especially.”
Carlie Scupin wrote in her “Carlie’s Scoop” column this week that Arizona traveled to Columbia, Mo., a “few days” before last week’s regional “to get acclimated to the climate, making sure we were ready for the weather.”
“We also took the opportunity to do some team bonding … going to team dinners and spending a lot more time together than usual when traveling,” she wrote.
Arizona went 3-0 in the regional with an 8-3 win over Illinois on Friday and two shutout wins Saturday and Sunday, 2-0 and 1-0, against No. 15 Missouri behind the complete-game pitching of Hanah Bowen and Devyn Netz, respectively.
“Whew, the humidity,” Allie Skaggs said when asked about the early trip to Starkville. “It was very similar in Missouri to where all we had practice this morning at 9 a.m., and it wasn’t even sunny, but man, we were sweating a whole lot. It’s sticky.
“The dirt’s a little different. I love the softer dirt, I don’t know how everyone else likes it but I think just getting used to the weather, getting used to the humidity, having it not be 100 degrees, is kind of nice. But just being acclimated I think is something good and (so is) not traveling the day before. It’s kind of nice to be here. You get time to rest. You get time to go work out if you want at their weight room, things like that. I like being here early.”
Lowe: Starting 0-8 in Pac-12 turned out beneficial
Lowe has gone from being a first-year coach feeling the weight of replacing the legendary Mike Candrea starting 0-8 in the Pac-12 to now being in the Starkville Super Regional two wins from reaching the Women’s College World Series.
“We wouldn’t be sitting here (at the Super Regional) if we didn’t go 0-8 in the Pac 12 (to start) because I think we’ve been tested like we’ve never been tested before. I think this has been an extremely challenging process for all of us this whole season,” Lowe said.
Arizona’s lineup and pitching also had new players to rely on with Super Seniors exhausting their eligibility such as Dejah Mulipola, Malia Martinez, Reyna Carranco, Jessie Harper, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, Alyssa Denham and Mariah Lopez.
“We’ve been trying to find our way and identity and what this new version of us looks like and not trying to be people who we aren’t,” Lowe added. “I think that (0-8 start in the Pac-12) was a wakeup call. It’s like, ‘Do we want to keep living like this or do we want to make a change?'”
Arizona finished 8-16 in the Pac-12, its fewest amount of wins since joining the conference in 1986. The Wildcats were not certain they would keep their NCAA tournament streak alive of 36 straight years after losing two of three games to upstart Stanford at the end of the regular season at Hillenbrand.
“We’re all just excited and it’s kind of like living in the moment and just enjoying where we’re at and taking advantage of it because a lot of teams wish they could be where we’re at,” Izzy Pacho said.
Skaggs mentioned, “We’re just enjoying everything that we get now because everything now is a bonus. We didn’t know what to expect with the rest of this postseason so we’re taking advantage of every day that we get.”
Skaggs reunited with former Kentucky high school teammate
— Allie Skaggs (@allieskaggs9) May 22, 2022
Skaggs attended Ironwood Ridge her senior year of high school in 2019-20 — the year COVID-19 cut the season short.
Before her family moved to Tucson, she played at Louisville Ballard High School. One of her teammates was Mississippi State first baseman Riley Hull, who played two years with Skaggs at Ballard before Hull transferred to Somerset (Ky.) Pulaski County.
“It kind of like seeing your little sister grow up,” said Skaggs, who is a year older than Hull.
Skaggs mentioned that when she was watching the elimination game between Mississippi State and Florida State on Sunday, she was “shaking,” hoping the Bulldogs can keep their 4-3 lead in the last two innings to set up the Super Regional matchup with Arizona.
“I was like, ‘Pull it off, Riley, pull it off please. Come on,'” she said. “As soon as I saw them win (4-3), I called my parents. I was like, ‘We get to see Riley this weekend! I get to see her mom, hug her mom!’
“I’m so excited. Anytime I have a connection to Kentucky and see these people that I used to play with or played against, I get so excited. I can’t wait. I’m hoping to get on first a few times so I can talk a little smack with her, but I’m so excited.”
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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.