West Ranch softball grad earns lifelong title in first season at Arizona

Freshman Jessie Harper (19) during Arizona's 4-2 win over Texas at Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium in Tucson, Ariz. on March 5, 2017. Courtesy Arizona Athletics

The title always caught Jessie Harper’s attention.

She’d hear it at banquets or on TV, always tied to some former softball star.

Now she’ll hear it the rest of her life.

Wednesday, the West Ranch High graduate and University of Arizona freshman was named a first-team All-American by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association.

“I didn’t even think it was possible to start off,” Harper said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was a little girl.”

And something she’s reminded of when she watches ESPN commentator Jessica Mendoza, a four-time All-American at Stanford, on TV or hears Arizona assistant coach Caitlin Lowe introduced.

“They introduced her Caitlin Lowe, All-American,” Harper said, later adding, “Anything you work hard for you want to be the best at.”

Harper finished her first collegiate season fourth in the Pac-12 in slugging percentage (.720), fourth in RBIs (56) and second in home runs (19).

Defensively, she successfully transitioned from shortstop, the position she played as a senior at West Ranch, to first base, where she made only four errors.

“I found first base to be a lot of fun,” she said. “I took it as a new challenge, something to excel at and learn. My favorite part was stretching and finishing the play. My teammates had some amazing plays, and I had to just finish it off.”

The Wildcats finished the regular season as Pac-12 champions, then advanced through their home regional with a 3-0 record.

In a best-of-three Super Regional against Baylor, Harper hit a walk-off RBI single in the opener on May 26, but Arizona dropped the final two games.

“I have three years ahead of me,” Harper said. “I’m positive we’ll make it (to the Women’s College World Series) sooner or later.”

Harper’s breakout came sooner than later, she says, in part, because the team’s seniors took her under their wings.

Harper, a finalist for the Schutt Sports/NFCA D1 National Freshman of the Year and a first-team All-Pac-12 selection, also thanked her coaches.

“I’m thankful to my coaches for having trust in me to put me out there as a freshman,” she said.

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