As a high school softball star, Janelle Meoño would watch the Arizona Wildcats and pay extra attention of one player in particular: Reyna Carranco.
Both are slap-hitters. And the connections don’t stop there.
Carranco became the first Wildcat to win the Pac-12 batting title in 2019, hitting .416 in 57 games. She passed the bat to Meoño, who claimed the title this season after hitting .442 in 45 regular-season games.
The 11th-ranked Wildcats (36-13) opened NCAA Regional play Friday night with a 7-0 win over UMBC. They advance to face Ole Miss on Saturday at 2 p.m.; the Rebels beat Villanova 5-1 in Friday’s first game.
Meoño and Carranco hit first and second in the UA lineup on Friday, serving as table-setters for a middle of the order that included sluggers Jessie Harper and Dejah Mulipola. Meoño went 2 for 3 with a walk and run scored; Carranco was hitless in two at-bats, but was credited with two sacrifices and scored a run.
“Reyna was someone I looked up to before coming to the UofA, she was one of my favorite players,” Meoño said. “To know that I am right next to her in the record book is something really cool for me.”
The Pac-12 began awarding the title in 2015. And while the Wildcats are known for being one of the country’s top-hitting programs, it’s power — and not necessarily a high average — that has been the program’s strength.
Slap-hitters focus on timing, vision and rhythm to spray hits all over the field. By beating the ball into the ground, hitters force fielders to make a quick throws to first base.
Meoño started this style of hitting when she was 11 years old. She hated it at first, but her dad, Ricardo, made her stick with it.
“I mean, it turned out pretty OK, I guess,” she said.
So good, in fact, that she posted a .442 average — 38 points better that the next in line, Washington’s Balyee Klingler (.414). The Pac-12 Freshman of the Year carried a 27-game hitting this season. Dating back to the 2020 season, Meoño has hit safely in 42 of 45 games.
Carranco credits Meoño’s “great hand-eye coordination — to be able to place the ball where she wants to place it.”
“And I think that’s probably one of the best things a slapper can have. She just does it so well,” Carranco said.
Like Meoño, Carranco initially resisted becoming a slap-hitter. She wanted to hit home runs.
But “I realized that I wasn’t going to grow too much bigger,” Carranco laughed. “Then I really embraced it.”
Carranco is hitting .311 this season. She played in only 27 games because of a hand injury.
Both players have grown in their hitting since arriving in Tucson.
It helps that one of the best slappers in UA history, Caitlin Lowe, is one of the Wildcats’ assistant coaches. Lowe finished her All-American UA career with a .400 batting average; over four seasons, she collected 300 hits — and won two national titles.
Lowe “helps me all the time,” Meoño said. “I always talk to her after every at-bat, like ‘What can I do better? What do you see?’ I think that having her as a coach is a huge plus for us with the slapping game.”
Carranco said that coach Mike Candrea has helped her understand which situations are better for slapping than traditional hitting. Carranco can do both.
They both approach each at-bat in a similar way. Meoño enters the batter’s box thinking that she wants to win the at-bat. Carranco wants to make the pitcher work for an out and “think I’m a hard out.”
While they don’t watch a ton of film, they are students of hitting. Carranco’s stint on the injured list allowed her to see the game from a different viewpoint. In between Meoño’s at bats, Carranco would share her observations with her teammate.
However, Carranco — a fifth-year senior — says she may benefit more in getting tips from Meoño. The redshirt freshman is “such an advanced slapper,” Carranco said.
“I’m like, ‘Oh, like in this situation, do you choke up on the bat? Or where do you like to place the ball when the runners are here?’ I feel like I like to pick her mind for that kind of stuff,” Carranco said.
“It amazes me because I feel like she’s so talented in all aspects. There are not many people who can play the short game and bounce the ball, (hit) line drives, hit for power, hit home runs over the fence as a slapper. She really amazes me as a player.”