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Courtesy: Sun Devil Athletics
#7 ASU Softball Opens Season With Kajikawa Classic
Courtesy: Sun Devil Athletics
Release: 02/04/2014
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Looking At The Weekend
The Sun Devils will open the 2014 season ranked No. 7 in the nation in both the NFCA Coaches  and the ESPN/USA Softball Polls, the same position the team finished in last year at the Women's College World Series. The team will take part in six games over four days in the Kajikawa Classic this weekend, opening the year against the 2013 MVC regular season champion, Creighton on Thursday, Feb. 6 at 5 p.m. MT at Farrington Stadium.  The game will be immediately followed by a 7:30 p.m. matchup against New Mexico and its head coach/former Sun Devil All-American, Erica Beach.

Perhaps ASU's biggest test of the weekend will come Friday as the team takes on the 2013 ACC Tournament Champions and NCAA Tournament participant NC State, who received votes in both the NFCA and ESPN Polls in the preseason. That game will get underway at 7:30 p.m. as well.  

The team return to action on Saturday for a 4:30 contest against Penn State before wrapping up the weekend on Sunday with a double header against Fresno State and UC Riverside that is set to begin at 11:30 a.m. 

All ASU games this weekend will take place at Farrington Stadium and be live-streamed online at http://pac-12.com/videos/arizona-state-university. Fans can also listen to game live via Blaze Radio, which is found on channel 1330 AM in the Tempe area and also can be heard online at ustream.tv/channel/blaze-sports. 

#10THINGS (Twitter-Friendly Notes)
1. Craig Nicholson (@ASU_CoachNix) will enter his 1st weekend at the helm of the Sun Devil program after spending seven seasons at Ball State.

2. @SoftballASU has made it to the #WCWS in 7 of the last 8 seasons, two more than any D-I school in the nation.

3. @SoftballASU returns four @NFCAOrg All-Americans this season, more than any other school in the nation.

4. @CheyCoyle27, @A_Freeman9 and @dalpal12 were all selected to the @ASAUSASoftball preseason #POY Watch List.

5. @ASUSoftball returns players who combined for 80 of the team’s 95 home runs from last season. #HomeRunDerbyEveryGame

6. The @ASUSoftball team has been ranked in the @NFCAOrg  coaches poil for 124 consecutive weeks and has been in the top 10 for 115 of those.

7. @ASUSoftball opens the season with a 24-game home stand as it hosts four straight tournaments beginning Feb. 6 and ending March 2.

8. The #SunDevils have been quite the achievers in the classroom as well, now having posted exactly 100 @Pac12 All-Academians in program history. 

9. Much ado made over 4 All-Americans, but don’t forget All-@Pac12-ers Haley Steele, Bethany Kemp, Mackenzie Popescue, Bailey Wigness this yr.

10. Eight of the teams in the 25 team, 65-game tournament this weekend advanced to the @NCAA Postseason in the 2013 campaign.

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

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 three 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 Devil a very unique program in that regard this season.

Players to Watch

The Sun Devils will enter 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.

Looking At The Preseason

Arizona State softball will begin the season with a preseason ranking of No. 7 in both the NFCA/USA Today poll and the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll. The Sun Devils finished 2013 with a 50-12 record.

Pac-12 schools made up seven of the Top 25 in the preseason poll: No. 3 Washington (April 17-19), No. 8 Oregon (May 2-4), No. 16 UCLA (May 8-10 in Tempe), No. 22 Stanford (March 22-24 in Tempe), No. 24 California (April 4-6).

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

Softball Winning % Since 2006

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)

Pac-12 In NCAA Tournament

The Pac-12 has had at least three teams in the NCAA Tournament every year since the conference began sponsoring softball in 1987. Only 11 different teams have won a NCAA Title in softball and five of those teams hail from the Pac-12. Pac-12 has won the most of any conference (23) and ASU has two of those. On 12 occasions, the NCAA Title game featured two Pac-12 schools.

100 Starts For Escobedo
Entering the 2014 season, Senior Dallas Escobedo has 102 starts as a Sun Devil. In her career, Escobedo is second at ASU in wins (91), 27 shy of tying for first. She’s also third all-time in strikeouts with 886. 

Career Records Update
Junior Amber Freeman jumped to 9th all-time in homers in 2013 with 31. The pitching staff is strong as well. Mackenzie Popescue’s 39 career wins is 13th on the all-time win list. Escobedo has 886 career strikeouts, ranking 3rd all-time at ASU. 

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.

Pac-12 Home Opener Vs. Stanford
ASU’s Pac-12 home opener against Stanford will be on Saturday, March 22. The second and third games of the series will air on the Pac-12 Network. 

Home Run Records
Five current Sun Devils rank among the top 20 on the all-time home run list at ASU. Freeman is 9th with 31, Alix Johnson is tied for 12th with 27, Haley Steele is tied for 15th with 25, Elizabeth Caporuscio is 17th with 21 and Cheyenne Coyle is 18th with 20.

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 124 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 seasons and have since been ranked in the top 10 in 115 of the 124 polls that have taken place since the team entered the rankings in 2006. 

Opening Day Success
Arizona State is 37-7 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. 

About the Tourney
Since the beginning of ASU Softball in 1966, ASU has hosted an annual tournament. From 1966-1990, it was named the `Sun Devil Invitational’, which found its name changed in 1991 to the Coca-Cola Classic. It remained that until 1999 when the name changed yet again to the `Fiesta Bowl Tournament’. Six years later in 2005, the name was changed for a final time to the `Kajikawa Classic’, after “Mr. Sun Devil” himself, Bill Kajikawa, a legendary coach and founder of Sun Devil athletics. This year’s field features eight teams that advanced to the postseason in 2013 with numerous conferences represented including the Pac-12 (5 teams), Mountain West (6), Big Ten (3), Big Sky (2), Big West (2), ACC (1) Big East (1), MAC (1), MVC (1), SoCon (1) and the WAC (1).

Arizona State Sun Devils Softball
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