TEMPE -- The No. 4/4 Sun Devil softball program will take part in six games over three days this weekend as it hosts the Diamond Devil Invitational, with the team’s Thursday night contest against Drake not considered a part of the tournament (though the second game against the Bulldogs is). ASU opens against the Bulldogs at 7 p.m. MT to kick off the weekend. The team will then play host to just one game on Friday, taking on Seton Hall at 6:30 p.m. MT to set up back-to-back days with doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday. The Sun Devils open Saturday against Boston College at 4:45 p.m. with a game against Idaho State to follow at approximately 7 p.m. On Sunday, ASU will take on Drake for the second time this weekend at 11:15 a.m., as well as a second game against Idaho State immediately following that.
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. It is important to note that this is a tournament and games sometimes fall behind so be sure to follow the team on Twitter (@ASUSoftball) for time updates on the day of competition.
#10THINGS (Twitter-Friendly Notes)
@ASUSoftball is 18-of-22 on stolen bases, putting them on pace for 124 attempts thru 62 games compared to 45 in 62 last year. #StealOfADeal
@ASUSoftball has made it to the #WCWS in 7 of the last 8 seasons, two more than any D-I school in the nation.
@ASUSoftball is batting .385 this season with two outs while adding two-out 27 RBI out of the 73 total RBI this season (36.9 percent)
Dallas Escobedo (@dalpal12) currently leads the @Pac12 with 55 strikeouts this season (11.0 per game) in five victories
@ASUSoftball currently had 15 home runs this season and have launched a long ball in 9 of 11 games this far in 2014.
The @ASUSoftball team has been ranked in the @NFCAOrg coaches poll for 126 consecutive weeks and has been in the top 10 for 117 of those.
Nikki Girard (@nikki_girard) and Alix Johnson (@MissJohnson_33) each lead the team with a current nine-game hitting streak.
@BethyKemp had four home runs on five hits at the Littlewood Classic and is current second in the @Pac12 in the category
Alix Johnson (@MissJohnson_33) and Amber Freeman (@A_Freeman9) have each safely reached base in all 11 @ASUSoftball games this year.
@ASUSoftball has now won 6 of last 9 when facing defending NCAA Champions following last week’s victory over @OU_Softball
Scouting the Opposition
The Sun Devils will get a mini taste of what the regular season will be like this weekend in the case of playing the same team on multiple occassions in one weekend. This will be the case for both Drake and Idaho State this weekend. Drake finished second in the MVC last year with a 29-20 record and returns a good majority of that team with 12 letterwinners back to just three lost. The squad returns its top two hitters from 2013 in Nicole Randel and Amy Pierce as well as pitchers Rebekah Schmidt and Jordan Gronewold, who combined for all but one of the team’s starts last season. Drake is currently 0-9 on the season. Idaho State was the 2013 Big Sky Champions - its first year in the league - and finished the season 29-23 and is the preseason favorite to win the division this year as well. The team lost just four starters from last season and returns eight, including Vicky Gallaso, who bat .461 for the Bengals last year with 18 home runs. ISU is currently 5-1 on the season. Seton Hall enters the weekend with a 3-4 record this season after finishing last year 21-30 and in eighth place in the BIG EAST. The team returns 15 letterwinners from that squad and has been led this year by Meredith Henze, who is batting .556 through seven games with four home runs and a 1.333 slugging percentage. Boston College lost just two players from last year’s roster that finished the season 14-38 and is 2-3 this year, including a tough loss to then-No. 4 Michigan, 6-5, last weekend. Nichole D’Argento has been solid in the circle for the Eagles with a 0.86 ERA in three starts.
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 one spot in both the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll and the USA Softball/ESPN Poll to No. 4 in both. ASU had opened the season at No. 7 nationally in both boths and climbed up to No. 5 following the opening weekend. This is the highest the Devils have been ranked since the final regular season poll of last season.
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 126 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 117 of the 126 polls that have taken place since the team entered the rankings in 2006.
A Look Back - Littlewood Classic
The No. 5 ASU softball team finished the Littlewood Classic with a perfect 4-0 record along with the non-tournament victory over Tennessee State on Thursday to compile a 5-0 record over three days. Bethany Kemp was the star of the weekend on offense, finishing the five games in the last three days with five hits, five runs and four home runs for a wicked 1.417 slugging percentage while accounting for 17 total bases. In two appearances, pitcher Dallas Escobedo allowed just two hits and two runs while striking out 23 batters in two complete games. Escobedo thwarted the defending NCAA Champions in No. 11 Oklahoma in a one-hit performance that saw the Sun Devils post a 7-0 victory.
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. In 2014, Escobedo has been out to a hot start and is 5-0 on the season with a 0.64 ERA and a Pac-12 leading 55 strikeouts. She is holding opponents to just a .064 batting average this season and has allowed just three earned runs while posting three complete game shutouts - allowing just a hit in each and the most impressive of which coming against No. 11 Oklahoma, where she retired 21 of 23 batters faced in a dominating effort.
Return of the Mack
Lest we forget, Escobedo is just half of arguably 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 0.59 ERA this season with just three earned runs allowed and a team leading six wins to her record, pitching complete games in five of her six victories. Popescue has yet to give up a home run this season and has been an accomplished defender herself with three putouts, 15 assists and no errors in six games this season.
Perhap no Sun Devil in the lineup has been as hot as Alix Johnson, who has a hit in each of ASU’s last nine games and has reached base in each of the Sun Devil’s 11 games this season. Johnson is batting .500 on the season with a .622 OBP% and an .821 slugging %. She leads the team with six doubles this season - also first in the Pac-12 - and is already just two shy of her 2013 total in the category. Additionally, Johnson leads the team in multi-hit games this season with four and is tied for the team lead with four stolen bases on five attempts. Her nine walks pace the team and she has been clutch with five hits on eight at bats when she has runners in scoring position while successfully advancing runners on 12 of 17 at bats this season, also leading the team.
‘Ber, It’s Cold In Here
Amber Freeman has flown a bit under the radar thus far this season, but she has arguably been the most consistent force in the Sun Devil lineup. The junior is second on the team with a .412 batting average this season and tied for the team lead in having reached base safely in all of ASU’s 11 games this season. Her 14 hits this season tie Alix Johnson for the team lead and she has picked up a hit in all but two of ASU’s contests this season.
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. 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.
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. The back-half of the lineup did it again against Illinois State with Nikki Girard scoring a pivotal double to tie that game up in the fifth inning. Girard now has a hit in nine straight games for the Sun Devils, matching the team lead with Alix Johnson as she is batting .357 on the year, good for fourth on the squad. The team’s consistent starts in the 5-8 hole this season have combined to go 41-of-115 (.357) with several clutch hits in the mix.
B’s In the Trap
Bethany Kemp had one of the top performances of the weekend at the Littlwood Classic. 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 is currently second in the Pac-12 with five homers this season and is third on the team with a .370 batting average thus far. Her 27 total bases earned pace the team, as does her 1.000 slugging percentage through 11 games.
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 have combined to go 17-of-41 (.414) in the first two weekends. Freshman Chelsea Gonzales has seen the most action, appearing in seven games with six 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. The youngster also launched her first career homer in a 7-0 defeat of Oklahoma
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 has 18 stolen bases on 22 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 124 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 35-of-91 (.385) - compared to just a .372 team overall average - with two outs with 27 of the team’s 73 RBI (.369) coming with two outs on the board. Additionally, with runners in scoring position, ASU is 37-of-101 (.366) while being exceptional at bringing runners home from third with less than two outs, going 19-of-27 in such situations (.704).
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.
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.
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 and Haley Steele are tied for 12th with 28, Cheyenne Coyle is 16th with 23 and Elizabeth Caporuscio is 18th with 21.
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 15 in the early going of the year. While early (and depending on the length of the season) ASU would finish the season with 88 home runs at its current clip, not far behind last year’s tally of 95 - the second most in program history. ASU has a home run in all but two games this season.
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.
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 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).