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Scouting report: UCLA softball vs. Arizona

By Sam Lieberman

April 12, 2023 12:48 p.m.

This post was updated April 13 at 12:48 p.m.

No. 2 UCLA softball (36-4, 12-3 Pac-12) will look to build upon its two-game lead in the Pac-12 standings in a weekend clash against No. 24 Arizona (24-15, 3-9). The Bruins come into the three-game series having won eight games in a row and 10 of their last 11. On the other hand, the Wildcats are stuck in a rough patch, having lost eight of their last nine in the Pac-12. Here is this week’s scouting report from softball contributor Sam Lieberman – who wants readers to know that cookies are better than cupcakes.

Arizona Personnel:
Position Player to Watch: UTIL Allie Skaggs
Pitcher to Watch: LHP Aissa Silva
X-Factor: C/1B Olivia DiNardo

Arizona Statistics:
Batting Average: .346 (No. 3 nationally, No. 1 Pac-12)
Earned Run Average: 3.12 (No. 113 nationally, No. 6 Pac-12)
Fielding Percentage: .982 (No. 5 nationally, No. 2 Pac-12)

After it earned a fifth-place finish in last year’s Women’s College World Series, Arizona’s roster looks noticeably different in 2023.

The Wildcats lone returning pitcher is Devyn Netz, who will go against her former teammates in UCLA’s redshirt junior outfielder Janelle Meoño and redshirt junior catcher Sharlize Palacios.

Meoño won the 2021 Pac-12 batting title with Arizona and hit leadoff in 34 of her 35 games last season, while Palacios smacked 20 home runs in her redshirt sophomore campaign in Tucson.

In Arizona’s final game of the 2022 season, Meoño and Palacios were the first and second batters, respectively, in coach Caitlin Lowe’s lineup.

To offset the losses of Meoño and Palacios, Arizona bolstered its roster with the nation’s No. 9 recruiting class and added pitching depth in the transfer portal. Outfielder Dakota Kennedy and infielder Taylor Biehl are both putting together strong freshman campaigns, batting .350 and .333, respectively. The duo also leads the team in steals, with Kennedy notching eight and Biehl notching six thus far.

The star addition on the offensive side, however, is catcher/first baseman Olivia DiNardo, who leads the Pac-12 in batting average at .454 and has an on-base plus slugging of 1.218. DiNardo – who was high school teammates with UCLA star freshman utility Megan Gran – has the highest batting average among all freshmen in the country and leads Pac-12 freshmen in hits, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and walks.

UCLA pitchers will also need to be wary of the power utility Allie Skaggs brings to the plate. The 2022 second-team All-American has 10 home runs thus far and ranks second in the country with 55 RBIs.

But, the Bruins will not have to worry about infielder Carlie Scupin – who has hit nine home runs and owns the second-highest OPS of any Wildcat – as she broke her forearm after being hit by a pitch in a game against New Mexico State on March 15.

The surprise hitter for Arizona this season has been Netz, who has blossomed into a two-way star. Netz had nine at-bats across her first two seasons but has burst onto the scene by batting .330 and swatting a team-leading 11 home runs in 94 at-bats this year.

Netz has been effective at the plate while also being the ace of Arizona’s staff. Netz leads the Wildcats in ERA and strikeouts and has pitched upwards of 2.5 times more innings than her next closest teammate – Aissa Silva – who was the only other Wildcat pitcher to toss more than an inning against Stanford last weekend.

As such, UCLA can expect a big chunk of its at-bats this weekend to be against the righty-lefty tandem of Netz and Silva.

Ups and downs have characterized the Wildcats’ season. Although they have four wins against teams ranked in the USA Today/NFCA coaches poll, their record against all ranked opponents is 4-10. UCLA, on the other hand, is 14-3 against such competition.

The Bruins have not allowed more than two runs in a game since March 25 or more than four runs in a game since March 11.

If the Wildcats are to have a chance at taking the series from the Bruins, they must rely on their .342 team batting average to get runners on base and cause high-stress innings for redshirt senior pitcher Megan Faraimo and company.

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