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Courtesy: Sun Devil Athletics
ASU Softball Set For Big Test at Judi Garman Classic
Courtesy: Sun Devil Athletics
Release: 03/05/2014
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FULLERTON, Calif. -- The No. 10/7 Arizona State University softball team will hit the road for the first time this season as the squad takes part in the annual Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif. The tournament is named after the former Titan Hall of Fame Head Softball Coach and widely regarded as the premiere mid-season collegiate tournament in the country, will be held at the dual diamond Titan Softball Complex on Thursday, March 6, to Sunday, March 9.

The Sun Devils (21-3) will be thrown right into the fire as the squad takes on No. 5 Michigan in the tournament opener on Thursday at 4 p.m. MT.  ASU will then take part in a Friday doubleheader beginning with perennial power Texas at 11 a.m. MT followed by No. 16 Nebraska immediately after. The team will round out the weekend with another doubleheader on Saturday that kicks off against San Jose State at 11 a.m. MT before wrapping up the weekend against Wisconsin.  

This will mark the first time ASU will play away from Farrington Stadium after four straight weekends and 24 consecutive games at home. It also marks a continuation of the toughest span of the season where ASU will be playing 12 games over the course of nine days with only two days of non-action (a rain out this past Saturday and Wednesday’s travel day to Fullerton) in that span. 

There will be no live broadcast - radio or video - for ASU games this weekend but live stats will be available for all games via TheSunDevils.com and fans can stay tuned with updates through Twitter (@ASUSoftball) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/ASUSoftball).

#10THINGS (Twitter-Friendly Notes)

@ASUSoftball has advanced the WCWS in seven of the last eight seasons, two more than any other program in the nation in that time frame 

@ASUSoftball, despite dropping in this week’s rankings, have been ranked in the top-10 in 119 of the last 128 @NFCAOrg Polls.

@DalPal12 has posted a whopping 10.3-to-1 K-to-BB ratio in 2014, with a @Pac12 leading 113 strikeouts to just11 walks.

@DalPal12 needs just one strikeout this week to become the second Sun Devil to even reach 1,000 strikeouts in her career.

@DalPal12 no-hitter against Longwood was the third solo no-hitter of her career and fourth with combined no-hitters added.

@ASUSoftball has scored a run-rule victory in 11 of the team’s 24 games played to date and has been one one away from one in two others. 

@ASUSoftball will be looking to avenge last year’s WCWS outing as it takes on the two squads that eliminated them in Texas and Michigan.

Haley Steele has been @ASUSoftball’s has advanced runners 31 times of 59 attempts (.525) - seven more hits than any other batter. 

@ASUSoftball has hit 72-of-197 this season with two outs (.365) - more than the team’s .360 overall average - and has 62 two-out RBI

Quietly, Elizabeth Caporuscio has taken the team lead in doubles with eight, also among the top numbers in the @Pac12 this season

Scouting the Opposition

The weekend will offers ASU its toughest overall test of the five tournaments it will play in as the squad will compete against two ranked teams in a weekend for the first time this year, opening the tourney against #5 Michigan and also playing #16 Nebraska.  The field also contains perennial power Texas and solid squads our of San Jose State and Wisconsin. Here’s a brief look at ASU’s competition this weekend: 

#5 Michigan (13-3)

The Wolverines will represent the highest-ranked foe the Sun Devils will play this season.  ASU played the Wolverines twice last year, the first at the Judi Garman Classic in a 5-4 loss and the second coming at the Women’s College World Series as Michigan eliminated the Sun Devils from the tournament with a 2-0 shutout.  The Wolverines have been exceptional this season behind the solid pitching of Haylie Wagner and Megan Betsa, who have combined for a 13-0 record with a stellar 0.78 ERA with just four earned runs allowed each. Sierra Romero, whose two-run shot at the WCWS last season was the dagger for the Devils, has been off the charts in 2014 batting .548 with three home runs and a team-leading 21 RBI. Michigan only three losses of the season have come to the current #1 Florida, #4 UCLA and No. 23 Lousiana Lafayette.  

Texas (13-9)

While the Longhorns haven’t necessarily been the powerhorse the nation is accustomed to, they still provide a formiddable test for ASU and - coincidentally - provided ASU with its other loss in the WCWS last season.  The Sun Devils fell to Texas 6-3 in the opener of the tournament, setting up the team’s elimination game against Michigan. ASU did defeat Texas earlier last year in a 3-0 decision. Despite the number in the loss category, Texas hasn’t been run out of the stadium very often and hasn’t lost any game by more than three runs with five one-one losses in the mix.  The team has four players batting over .400, including current Big 12 Player of the Week Lindsey Stephens who is batting .446 with seven home runs and a whopping 34 RBI this year. Gabby Smith has been the team’s ace, compiling an 8-1 record with a 2.02 ERA and 46 strikeouts.

#16 Nebraska 

The Cornhuskers enter the weekend with a 12-6 record and victories over ranked squads in Florida State, Oklahoma and Texas A&M thus far this season.  The team is coming off a 3-1 showing at The Preview, where it split two games with then No. 13 Oklahoma and swept two against Oklahoma State. Taylor Edwards has been the star for the Huskers, compiling a .475 batting average this year with three home runs while also serving as the team’s ace in compiling a 6-3 record with a 1.94 ERA with 54 strikeouts.

San Jose State (11-6)

This will be the second time the Sun Devils have squared off against the Spartans this season following a 7-4 victory at the Littlewood Classic. The Spartans enter the game having won four of their last five and the one loss came in a dramtic 1-0 decision to No. 7 Washington this past weekend. Jesse Hufstetler continues to plau at a high rate, batting .540 on the season with an .820 slugging percentage. Allison Lang has been solid in the circle with a 6-2 record and a 2.51 ERA.

Wisconsin (7-7)

The Badgers enter the weekend looking to get above .500 and have not logged a victory in  any of the four games they have played against a ranked opponent this year. Wisconsin has three players batting  over .400 this year while Taylor-Paige Stewart has posted a 3-2 record in the circle with a 2.76 ERA

Craig Nicholson Takes the Reins

Craig Nicholson was hired on June 30. The head coach at Ball State for the past seven seasons, Nicholson amassed a 241-162 record with the Cardinals and holds a 964-252 career record. Nicholson replaces Clint Myers, who accepted a similar position at Auburn on June 14. On top of coaching at Ball State, Nicholson was the associate head coach for the Chicago Bandits of the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) in 2008 and helped the team to a NPF title.

The fastest coach in BSU program history to pass the 100 and 200-win marks, Nicholson was instrumental in Ball State capturing four Mid-American Conference (MAC) regular season championships (2009, 2010, 2012), a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 2010 and the program’s first All-American. Offensive minded, Nicholson saw much growth in the Ball State program under his tutelage.

Not since UCLA’s Sue Enquist retired following a World Series appearance in 2006 has a program coming off an appearance in Oklahoma City gone through a coaching change, making the Sun Devils a very unique program in that regard this season.

In The Rankings

The Sun Devils dropped several spots in both the NFCA/USA Today Coaches Poll as well as the ESPN/USA Softball Poll following the team’s 4-3 effort over the course of this past weekend. ASU now sits at No. 10 in the NFCA Poll and No. 7 in the ESPN poll.  

The View From The Top
Over the past eight seasons, the Sun Devils have been among the most dominant teams in the nation. One need look no further than the weekly NFCA Coaches Poll to get a gage of that.  The Sun Devils have been ranked in 128 consecutive Coaches Polls, a streak that dates back to Week 2 of the 2006 season.  The Sun Devils entered the top-10 in Week 6 of that season and have since been ranked in the top 10 in 119 of the 128 polls that have taken place since the team entered the rankings in 2006. 

A Look Back - Louisville Slugger Invite

The Sun Devil softball team finished 3-3 on the weekend at the Louisville Slugger Invitational, taking victories over Detroit twice (6-4/16-2) and Florida International (8-0) while dropped tough contests to South Carolina (3-2), Minnesota (3-2) and Ball State (3-0).  The Sun Devils also defeated Longwood on Tuesday in a dramatic 1-0 victory that ended on a walk-off fielder’s choice to complete Dallas Escobedo’s fourth career no-hitter. The Sun Devils are now 21-3 after the performance. 

Players to Watch

The Sun Devils entered the season with four returning NFCA All-Americans on the roster, the most of any team in the country. Only Alabama (3) is within one of the Sun Devils mark and is the only team with more cumulative returning selections (6) than ASU, who has five with Dallas Escobedo being a two-time All-American. Returning All-Americans Escobedo, Cheyenne Coyle and Amber Freeman have all been named to the USA Softball Preseason Player of the Year Watch List for the upcoming season.

The Road to OKC Goes Through Dallas

For the past three years, Dallas Escobedo has been among the premier pitchers in the nation.  The two-time All-American and three-time First-Team All-Pac-12 selection has helped to lead ASU to the WCWS in each of her three seasons at ASU, including a National Championship in 2011.  Escobedo is currently 8-2 with a 0.93 ERA and an incredible 113 strikeouts to just 11 walks - 10.3:1 K:BB ratio that will be tough to top on the national level. She has posted six complete game shutouts - allowing just a single hit in four of those while saving her best performance for Longwood in a game of offensive struggles as she no-hit the Lancers for her third career solo no-hitter and fourth no-hitter overall. Escobedo has given up just nine earned runs this season and has allowed just five base-runners on third base the entire season. 

100 Starts For Escobedo

Senior Dallas Escobedo now has 113 starts as a Sun Devil. In her career, Escobedo is second at ASU in wins (99), 19 shy of tying Katie Burkhart for first on the time all-time list. Following the opening weekend of action, she moved into second all-time on the career strikeouts list and very nearly capped her no-hitter against Longwood off with another notable feat as she came one strikeout shy of reaching 1000 for her career. With 113 strikeouts this seaosn, Escobedo‘s career number sits at 999 and will likely cross into four digits within the first couple innings of action this weekend.  

Return of the Mack

Lest we forget, Escobedo is just half of one of the most potent 1-2 pitching punches in the country. Fellow senior Mackenzie Popescue has shown she is just as much an ace in the last two seasons and is a pivotal part of ASU’s success.  Popescue has a 1.01 ERA this season with just nine earned runs allowed and a team-leading 11 wins to her record, pitching complete games in eight games this season, seven of those being victories. Popescue gave up her very first home run against Detroit and leads the team with just one given up this year while holding opponents to a .212 batting average.  Popescue has also been a capable fielder with 21 assists and three puts outs with zero errors thus far on the season.  

‘Ber, It’s Cold In Here

Amber Freeman has flown a bit under the radar thus far this season - as much as a defending pac-12 Player of the Year can - but she has arguably been the most consistent force in the Sun Devil lineup.  The junior leads the team with a .467 batting average this season and tied for the team lead in having reached base safely in 18 games this season.  Her .528 on-base percentage currently leads the squad. Her 28 hits this season lead the team as well - a number padded by her exceptional 11-for-15 effort at the Diamond Devil Invite. Freeman holds the team lead with a 13-game hitting streak - the longest of any Sun Devil this season and the only one to reach double digits - that was brought to an end against South Carolina. Freeman has been pivotal in keeping inning going and is second on the team with 11 hits when she’s at bat with two outs at the board on 23 attempts. 

AlixIsOnFire

Alix Johnson has been among ASU’s most reliable base runners this season.  Johnson is batting .350 on the season with a .506 OBP% that is good for second on the team. She has reached base safely in 18 of ASU’s games this season, one of just two Sun Devils to accomplish the feat. She leads the team with seven doubles this season and is already just one shy of her 2013 total in the category.  Additionally, Johnson leads with nine stolen bases on 10 attempts. Her 19 walks pace the team has successfully advanced runners on 22 of 35 (.629) opportunities this season - the highest total among Sun Devils with at least 20 chances in that situation this year.  

Chey-City

All-American Cheyenne Coyle had as good an opening weekend as anyone in the country at the Kajikawa Classic.  The senior hit three home runs - including her fourth career grand slam - en route to a monstrous 1.313 slugging percentage to go along with a .619 OBP%. Coyle had a team-leading nine hits on the weekend and 11 RBI, more than twice the amount of anyone else on the squad. On the season, Coyle is batting .359 with a team-leading 22 RBI. Coyle has a team leading eight hits on nine attempts (.889) when she has a runner on third and less than two outs.  

Steele of a Deal

Haley Steele has been among ASU’s most reliable hitters in recent weeks as she continues to boost her batting average after a sub-par opening weekend.  The junior is now batting .366 on the year with five home runs but has quietly climbed into a tie for the team-lead for RBI with 22. Steele has been the Sun Devils’ most successful batter when it comes to advancing runners, doing so 31 times of 59 attempts (.525) - seven more hits than any other batter. Steele also leads the team with 12 hits when facing two outs on 30 chances (.400). As if that weren’t enough, Steele also has posted the most hits with runners in scoring position in logging 12 hits in such situations. Her six RBI this past weekend also led the team. 

B’s In the Trap 

Bethany Kemp had one of the top performances of the weekend at the Littlwood Cwlassic. Kemp batted .417 with five hits on 12 at bats.  The more impressive feat, however, was the four of those hits went over the fence as the junior led the team with four home runs over the three days of competition.  The junior currently leads the team with seven home runs this season and was the only Sun Devil to log more than one home run over the course of the Louisville Slugger Invite. Kemp leads the team with a .750 slugging percentage and has drawn 15 walks on the season, which is good for second on the team.  

‘Ruscio, ‘Ruscio, ‘RU-SCI-OOOOOO

Elizabeth Caporuscio is another Sun Devils who has slowly been creeping up the batting average list for the Sun Devils and now finds herself batting .403 on the year with a team-leading eight doubles in the process. Her 25 hits are third on the squad and she was among the team top performers at this past weekend, logging a team-high nine hits on 18 at bats (.500) with four RBI over the course of the weekend.

The Future Looks Bright

The Sun Devils have no shortage of upperclassmen who can put the ball into play but if the team showed one thing during the opening weekend, it’s that the youngsters on the squad have plenty of upside.  Players who are either are new this season or received limited playing time last season that have at least three at bats have combined to go 34-of-81 (.420) in the first three weekends.  Freshman Chelsea Gonzales is already making a case to be named to some All-Newcomer lists come season’s end as the frosh is batting .426 this season with three home runs - including her first career grand slam against Drake. Gonzales was unfazed by bright lights with several clutch hits this past weekend. She finished the weekend batting .500 on 8-of-16 batting with a team-leading .556 average among starters. Jenn Soria had a monster weekend at the Diamond Devil invite, going 6-of-9 (.667) from the plate with a monstrous 1.556 slugging percentage and a .727 on-base percentage in four appearances.  

Home Run Derby
There have been plenty of longballs in the early going for the Sun Devils, who are currently second in the Pac-12 with 33 in the early going of the year.  ASU entered the Diamond Devil Invite with 15 home runs before knocking 14 out of the park of the course of the four day event. While early (and depending on the length of the season) ASU is on pace to finish the season with around 83 home runs at its current clip if it played 62 games as it did last season. ASU has a home run in all but seven games this season. 

No Home Runs For You

While ASU has had no problem with the long ball this season offensively, they also haven’t had much of one on defense either.  ASU’s pitching staff has given up just four home runs to date - a mark that is currently second in the Pac-12. 

All Your Base Are Belong To Us

Head coach Craig Nicholson has been adamant that this team will be aggressive on the base pass and force the opposition to make plays.  If the start to the season is any indication, he’s a man of his word.  ASU has 30 stolen bases on 36 attempts thus far this season. In 62 games last season, the Sun Devils were 39-for-45 on stolen-base attempts. The current team would be on pace for 116 stolen base attempts in 62 games.

Two Outs? No Problem

While the Sun Devils have been impressive from the batter’s box this season, the squad has taken it to another level with two outs on the board.  ASU is 72-of-197 (.365) - just above the team’s .360 overall average - with two outs. Of those hits, the offense has provided 62 of the team’s 161 RBI (38.5 percent) coming with two outs on the board.   

Don’t Miss Your Chance

ASU has been successful offensively this season largely because it has taken advantage of its chances when they are there.  With runners in scoring position, ASU’s batters are 85-of-235 (.362) while being exceptional at bringing runners home from third with less than two outs, going 37-of-53 in such situations (.698). Of course that means you have to get runners in a position to score to begin with, and ASU’s batters have done just that in going 211-of-384 (.549) when it comes to advancing runners.  And of course, someone has to get on base to make any of this a possibility, another feat ASU batters have been exceptional at.  ASU’s leadoff batters this season have reached base 61 of 133 times (.459) while the Sun Devils are 91-of-256 (.355) with the bases empty on the year.  You need baserunners to score and ASU has made sure to provide plenty of those thus far this season.

Add It To The Trophy Case

Dallas Escobedo went 3-0 in the first weekend of action as No. 7 Arizona State squad hosted the annual Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., and was named the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week for the effort. The Sun Devils went 6-0 on the weekend, outscoring its opponents 48-3 in the process. Escobedo gave up just one earned run while pitching three complete games, including two shutouts. She posted a 0.37 ERA with 32 strikeouts while holding opposing batters to just a .063 batting average, while giving up only four hits. Her 14 strikeouts in the 3-0 victory over Creighton on Thursday was the second-most strikeouts for a regular season in the senior’s career. Escobedo’s Pitcher of the Week honor is the sixth of her career, and the 80th weekly selection for Arizona State all-time.

Home Run Records

Five current Sun Devils rank among the top 20 on the all-time home run list at ASU. Amber Freeman is 9th with 33, Alix Johnson is tied for 13th with 31, Haley Steele is 12th with 30, Cheyenne Coyle is 16th with 26 and Elizabeth Caporuscio is 17th with 22. 

Lights, Camera, Action

Days and times of softball’s TV games is on thesundevils.com. ASU will have 17 televised games on the Pac-12 Network in 2014. That schedule includes 10 home games that will be broadcast on the network.  If that’s not enough for fans, than they are in luck as all of ASU’s remaining home games will be live streamed online through the Pac-12 website at http://pac-12.com/videos/arizona-state-university

On The Airwaves

Not only will every single home Sun Devil contest be either live-streamed or broadcast live on television, but for the second consecutive year Blaze Sports Radio will provide the call for all of Arizona State’s home games this season.  Fans in the Tempe area can tune in at 1330 AM while they can also listen online at ustream.tv/channel/blaze-sports.

Note on WCWS

The Sun Devils have advanced the WCWS in seven of the last eight seasons, two more than any other program in the nation in that time frame. Alabama, Tennessee, Arizona and Florida have each been to five in the same span. Additionally, in that eight-year span, ASU has one of the top winning percentages in the country with a 427-102 record since 2006. The .807 winning percentage is tied for third nationally with Michigan behind only Alabama (.837) and Florida (.810). 

Winning Percentage Since 2006 (Prior to 2014)

1. Alabama - .837 (432-84)

2. Florida - .810 (437-102)

3. Arizona State - .807 (427-102)

    Michigan - .807 (385-92)

5. Tennessee - .804 (421-102-1)

6. Oklahoma - .803 (384-93-1)

7. ULL - .775 (373-108)

8. Missouri - .748 (374-126)

9. UCLA - .747 (345-117)

10. Texas - .742 (347-120-2)

Opening Day Success
Arizona State is now 38-7 on opening day dating back to 1971. The last time ASU lost its first game of the season was back in 1995. 

USA Softball Top 50 Watch List
Dallas Escobedo, Alix Johnson and Amber Freeman all made the cut on the Player of the Year watch list. This is the third time for Escobedo and second for Johnson and Freeman. 

Where 2013 Left Off
The Sun Devils dropped two games in the 2013 WCWS en route to a 50-12 season overall.  The appearance in the WCWS was ASU’s seventh in the last eight seasons, two more than any other team in the nation in that time. The Sun Devils finished the year 16-8 in conference play and tied for second in the Pac-12 with Washington.  The team opened the season with a porgram best 21-0 record to start the season and finished the year with an incredible 40-3 record at home. Catcher Amber Freeman was named the Pac-12 Player of the Year while Freeman, Dallas Escobedo and Cheyenne Coyle were all named NFCA All-Americans. 

Notable losses:
Sam Parlich | 2B, .348 avg, 10 HR, 41 RBI, .541 SLG%, .368 OBP%, 61 starts

Lucy Aubrecht | C/DP, .313 avg, 5 HR, 27 RBI, .542 SLG%, .417 OBP%

Notable returners:

Dallas Escobedo | RHP, 30-6, 2.32 ERA, 250.2 innings pitched in 2013. No. 1 in the circle in powerful 1-2 pitching lineup. USA Softball Player of the Year Preseason Watch List. 2x All-American. Opposing hitters have batted under .200 against her in her career. 

Amber Freeman | C, 62 starts, .361 batting average, 18 homers. Pac-12 Player of the Year. 61 RBI and 66 hits. 2013 All-American. Member of USA Softball Team following the 2013 season. USA Preseason Softball Top-50 PoY Watch List

Cheyenne Coyle | SS, 62 starts, .358 batting average, 20 home runs, 66 RBIs. Tied single season ASU home run mark. 2013 All-American. USA Preseason Softball Top-50 PoY Watch List

Alix Johnson | OF, .324 batting average, 57 hits, 8 doubles, 11 homers, 35 RBI. 2012 All-American and multiple time All-Conference Selection

Bailey Wigness | OF, 60 starts, .376 batting average last season led the team. .440 OBP% 

Mackenzie Popescue | RHP, 19-6 record, 1.94 ERA. All-Pac-12 Selection.  Gave up just seven home runs on the season.

Haley Steele | 3B, 62 games started, .330 batting average, 12 homers and 47 RBIs. .600 SLG%, .410 OBP%. All-Pac-12 Selection

Bethany Kemp | 1B, 43 games started, .331 average, 9 homers, 27 RBI. .596 SLG%, .401 OBP%. All-Pac-12 Selection

Arizona State Sun Devils Softball
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