College softball: Coming off injury, Arizona's Alyssa Palomino ready for NCAA tournament debut
Alyssa Palomino is in a good place right now.
It's NCAA Regionals week and Palomino is excited to make her postseason debut for the Arizona softball team just one year after an injury kept her off the field for an entire season.
Palomino stepped outside Arizona's Lapan Family Center at Hillenbrand Stadium, adjusted her uniform and stepped in front of a camera for interviews.
The redshirt freshman was shoeless, wearing socks that didn't match, including one displaying one of the Minions from the popular "Despicable Me" movie franchise.
"That's just me being weird," Palomino said with a laugh.
That's on purpose, the mismatched socks. It's something she's been doing since middle school.
"It was like, I'm just going to rebel against everything and not wear matching socks," Palomino joked.
Palomino's exuberance is matched by most of her teammates right now, amped up after a Pac-12 title-winning regular season and a Sunday selection show that granted the Wildcats the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament. But this is a particularly special time for Palomino, who was relegated to being the team's resident psychologist on the road during last season's NCAA tournament.
As Arizona pitcher Danielle O'Toole dominantly pitched the Wildcats to the Super Regional round, Palomino, O'Toole's roommate, was in the background, keeping her motivated as nervousness surfaced.
It was "me trying to relax her," Palomino said. "Sometimes she gets all crazy. I tell her to relax, you know what you can do, you know who you are.
"It's funny because that (psychology) was my major."
All of that points to this — Palomino remained upbeat while recovering from a torn ACL, suffered on the first day of fall practice, no less.
"You know, I stepped into a different role last year, Palomino said. "Yeah, I couldn't help on the field but there were so many other ways I was helping this team, by keeping them pumped up, keeping them loose, keeping them focused in the game. That was my role. Even though I wasn't helping on the field, I was helping in the dugout, keeping their minds right. I was still a part of the journey."
Last year's team fell short of the Women's College World Series, the sixth straight season the Wildcats were kept out of Oklahoma City. Now Palomino is part of an Arizona team with an ideal path to return to the Women's College World Series, that No. 2 overall seed granting Arizona home-field advantage in the Regional and Super Regional rounds, should the Wildcats, as expected, make it that far. Arizona opens on Friday night against New Mexico State.
In Arizona's potent offense, Palomino is one of its best run producers.
On the season, the Mission Viejo, California native has hit 16 home runs with 54 RBIs, second on the team to the Pac-12 player of the year Katiyana Mauga.
There was a nine-game stretch from March 25 to April 8 when Palomino hit six home runs and 19 RBIs, including a 7-RBI game against Stanford on April 7. At that point, Palomino's batting average was .353, and she led the conference in RBIs.
In 15 games since, Palomino has seven hits, three home runs and five RBIs in 43 at-bats, dropping her average down to a season-low .302. Now, though, the calendar turns to the postseason, and none of that matters anymore.
"You know, there's been ups and downs but that's what this game is all about. It's definitely a ride that I've never experienced before," Palomino said. "It's a long season and just keeping our bodies right and our minds right for it, it's been fun and one hell of a ride for this team."
This article is written by Zack Rosenblatt from The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.