TEMPE -- The No. 5/5 Arizona State University softball team will take part in five games over three days this weekend, beginning with Tennessee State on Thursday at 7 p.m. MT at Farrington Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. That event is not classified as part of the Littlewood Classic and will instead be marking down as a regular season contest with no tournament affiliation.
ASU officially opens the Littlewood Classic on Friday at 6 p.m. MT against the defending national champion, No. 11 Oklahoma. The team will then complete the doubleheader that night as it takes on Delaware State at 8:15 p.m. The team will return to action on Saturday to take on Illinois State at 1:15 p.m. and will close the weekend against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville at 3:45 p.m. The team will not compete on Sunday.
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. @ASUSoftball is 12-of-13 on stolen bases, putting them on pace for 134 attempts thru 62 games compared to 45 in 62 last year. #StealOfADeal
2. @ASUSoftball has made it to the #WCWS in 7 of the last 8 seasons, two more than any D-I school in the nation.
3. @ASUSoftball returns four @NFCAOrg All-Americans this season, more than any other school in the nation.
4. Dallas Escobedo (@dalpal12) earned her sixth career @Pac12 Pitcher of the Week honor this past week. 2nd Most in ASU History.
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 125 consecutive weeks and has been in the top 10 for 116 of those.
7. Mackenzie Popescue (@Wild__Thing99) tied for @Pac12 lead w/ a 0.00 ERA. Only pitcher w/ three starts to post that.
8. @CheyCoyle27 leads the @Pac12 with three home runs and 21 bases accounted for this season. 2nd in RBi at 11 this season.
9. Alix Johnson (MissJohnson_33) moved into 10th in ASU history in RBI with 127 this week. Next on list: No. 9 at 135.
10. @ASUSoftball has won 5 of last 8 when facing defending NCAA Champions. Will get a chance to improve on that against @OU_Softball on Fri.
About the Tourney
From the beginning of Sun Devil Softball in 1967 to 1989, the founder and leader of ASU Softball was Head Coach, Mary Littlewood, who was a staple and founder of the majority of the women’s sports at ASU today. Under Mary Littlewood, ASU won two championships and advanced to the College World Series nine times. Littlewood compiled a record of 551-222-1, with winning seasons each of her 22 years at the helm. The tournament is in its 10th year and is honored after the founder of Sun Devil Softball. Coach Littlewood will throw out the first pitch at ASU’s first game Friday night.
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 Devils a very unique program in that regard this season.
In The Rankings
The Sun Devils moved up two spots in both the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll and the USA Softball/ESPN Poll to No. 5 in both. ASU had opened the season at No. 7 nationally in both boths and climbed up following a 6-0 start to the season at the Kajikawa Classic.
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 125 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 116 of the 125 polls that have taken place since the team entered the rankings in 2006.
A Look Back - Kajikawa Classic
The No. 7 Sun Devil softball team went 6-0 in the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe to open the season, outscoring opponents 48-3 and allowing just a single earned run. ASU finished the weekend batting .430 as a team with 64 hits, seven home runs and 44 RBIs. Every Sun Devil that received at least two at bats got a hit on the weekend. The pitching was exceptional as well, as Dallas Escobedo and Mackenzie Popescue combined for a 6-0 record (three wins each) with a combined .20 ERA while allowing just a single earned run and an opponent batting average of .151. The Sun Devils scored victories over Creighton, New Mexico, N.C. State, Penn State, Fresno State and UC Riverside in the tournament.
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.
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.
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. The senior wants nothing more than to wrap things up the way they started. In 2014, Escobedo got out to a hot start and is 3-0 on the season with a 0.37 ERA with a Pac-12 leading 32 strikeouts. She is holding opponents to just a .063 batting average this season and has allowed just one earned run while posting two complete game shutouts - allowing just a hit in each.
Return of the Mack
Lest we forget, Escobedo is just half of arguably the most potent 1-2 pitching punch 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 opened 2014 with a 0.00 ERA in three wins, pitching compete games in each at the Kajikawa Classic. She showed her abiity to get out of jams on the weekend after allowing a .400 batting average to opponents with the bases empty before locking down and limiting the opposition to just a .163 average with runners on base. More important, she never gave opponents extra chance. When facing two outs, Popescue got the third out on ALL 14 opportunities on the weekend, forcing the opposition to 0-14 hitting when she needed to get the third out of the inning.
All-American Cheyenne Coyle had as good an opening weekend as anyone in the country last weekend. 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. She accounted for 21 total bases and was 3-for-3 on stolen base attempts. While she did not receive any conference or national honors, she did receive recognition as one of the nation’s top performers in the NFCA Weekly Update.
As if it weren’t enough to have to worry about All-Americans Cheyenne Coyle and Dallas Escobedo, opposing teams still have to find a way to deal with two more All-Americans in Amber Freemand and Alix Johnson. As the opening weekend showed, that not going to be easy. Johnson overcame a slow start to finish the weekend 8-for-16 with a home run, five RBIs, three runs and three stolen bases. Freeman was not far behind, batting .444 on the weekend with eight hits and four RBI. Worrying about their hitting isn’t the end of it. Both were error-less on the weekend and Johnson had a home run stealing catch in center field in the opener while Freeman made a beautiful diving grab on a popped-up foul ball as both showed they are more than capable defensively as well.
No Easy Outs
The tough outs don’t end at the trio of All-American hitters. Opposing pitchers still have to cope with All-Conference players in Haley Steele, Bethany Kemp, Elizabeth Caporuscio. Bailey Wigness and Nikki Girard in the lineup. The second half of the Sun Devil lineup was responsible for answering the call after the team fell behind against N.C. State and helped spark the offense against Creighton when the All-American trio struggled. Steele added her second career grand slam against UC Riverside, accounting for six RBI in a game despite entering that game hitting under .200 and showing that, even in a slump, the ASU hitters are more than capable of putting runs on the board. Caporuscio was the only Sun Devil on the roster with a hit in each game she played while Wignes - in the nine spot - posted a .467 OBP% while batting .429 on 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 combined to go 12-of-23 (.521) hitting in the opening weekend. Freshman Chelsea Gonzales saw the most action, appearing in five games with four starts. The youngster had a critical at bat in the opener against Creighton with a two-RBI hit in her first career at bat that would prove to be the difference in a 3-0 victory over the Jays. Sashel Palacios earned her first start at catcher on the weekend and went 2-of-3 with an RBI and a walk. In her lone at bat of the weekend (and first career at bat) Sierra Rodriguez hit an RBI single. Returning sophomores Jenn Soria and Katee Aguirre were solid as well, combing to go 4-of-7 (.571) with four runs scored, two RBI and a walk.
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 opening weekend was anything to go by, he’s a man of his word. ASU had 12 stolen bases on 13 attempts in six games on opening weekend. In 62 games last season, the Sun Devils were 39-for-45 on stolen-base attempts. The current team would be on pace for 134 stolen base attempts in 62 games.
Two Outs? No Problem
While the Sun Devils were especially impressive from the batter’s box this weekend, they took it to another level with two outs on the board. ASU went 23-of-48 (.479) with two outs with 18 of the team’s 44 RBI on the weekend (.409). Additionally, with runners in scoring position, ASU was 24-of-69 (.348) while being exceptional at bringing runners home from third with less than two outs, going 12-of-18 in such situations (.667).
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)
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
Senior Dallas Escobedo now has 105 starts as a Sun Devil. In her career, Escobedo is second at ASU in wins (94), 24 shy of tying for first. Following the opening weekend of action, she moved into second all-time on the career strikeouts list and now has 918 in her career and the countdown to 1000 begins at 82.
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 32, Alix Johnson is tied for 12th with 28, Haley Steele is tied for 15th with 26, Cheyenne Coyle is 16th with 23 and Elizabeth Caporuscio is 18th with 21.
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.
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%
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
Looking At The Preseason
Arizona State softball began 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).