TEMPE -- The No. 7/5 Arizona State University softball team will open the 2014 Pac-12 Conference slate this weekend as the team heads on the road for a three-game series in Corvallis, Ore., against Oregon State beginning Friday, March 14. The weekend series will feature a group of afternoon games, beginning at 1 p.m. PT/MT on Friday and Saturday with a 12 p.m. game set to take place on Sunday to wrap up the series. This weekend’s games will not be televised.
#10THINGS (Twitter-Friendly Notes)
@ASUSoftball’s 5-0 record at #JudiGarman marked first time in program history the team went undefeated in the event.
@ASUSoftball has been ranked in the top-10 in 120 of the last 129 @NFCAOrg Polls and have been ranked in all 129 of those polls
@DalPal12 has posted a whopping 12.5-to-1 K-to-BB ratio in 2014, with a @Pac12 leading 138 strikeouts to just11 walks.
@DalPal12 became just the 14th @Pac12 pitcher to reach 1,000 strikeouts last week as she went 3-0 with two one-hitters at #JudiGarman.
@DalPal12 has now won seven @Pac12 Player of the Week honors and three @USAASUSoftball National Player of the Week nods
@ASUSoftball has scored a run-rule victory in 13 of the team’s 29 games played to date and has been one run away from one in two others.
@ASUSoftball is 75-29 all-time against @OregonStateSB and has won 16 of the last 20 games against the #Beavers.
@BaileyWigness has been the hottest Sun Devil in recent weeks, batting .500 on 10-of-20 hitting in the last two weekends.
@ASUSoftball is 251-of-463 (.542) when it has had the opportunity to advance runners this season and 78-of-228 (.342) with two outs.
Quietly, Elizabeth Caporuscio has taken the team lead in doubles with nine, also among the top numbers in the @Pac12 this season
Scouting the Opposition
The Sun Devils have won 16 of the last 20 games against the Beavers and have swept two of the last three series. ASU is 75-29 all-time against OSU and have only lost one series to Oregon State since 2006. In three games last season, ASU outscored Oregon State 21-5.
The Beavers enter the weekend with a 9-13 record and will also be opening their Pac-12 schedule this weekend. They have won four of their last six games.
Dani Gilmore leads the OSU starters with a .400 batting average and a team-leading five home runs and 16 RBI. She also leads the team in slugging (.754) and on-base percentage (.500). Amanda Nadjek has compiled most of the team’s starts and has a 5-8 record entering the weekend with a 3.21 ERA. ASU will likely also see Melanie Dembinski, who is 2-4 this season with a 2.45 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.
Follow the Action
While there is no live stream or broadcast of this weekend’s action, fans can tune in to the softball page at www.TheSunDevils.com for a live blog detailing all the action from the three games set to take place. Additionally, fans are encouraged to stay tuned to ASU softball social media outlets by following @ASUSoftball on Twitter or liking the team on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/ASUSoftball.
In The Rankings
The Sun Devils took advantage of their 5-0 record at the Judi Garman Classic to make a solid jump in this week’s national rankings. The Sun Devils moved up three spots to No. 7 in the NFCA/USA Today Coaches Poll while moving up two spots to No. 5 in the ESPN/USA Softball Poll as well.
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 129 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 120 of the 129 polls that have taken place since the team entered the rankings in 2006.
A Look Back - Judi Garman Classic
The then-No. 10 ASU softball team improved to 26-3 on the season after finishing last weekend 5-0 at the Judi Garman Classic and are now 7-0 since last Monday with victories over Detroit and Longwood earlier last week. Dallas Escobedo was absolutely phenomenal at the Judi Garman classic, pitching two-one hitters against nationally ranked teams in a 2-0 victory over #5 Michigan and a 1-0 victory over No. 16 Nebraska. Offensively, the Sun Devils had five home runs on the weekend and Amber Freeman led the way with two homers – including her first grand slam of the season – and seven RBI. It was the first time in program history that the team had gone undefeated in the historically competitive event.
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 past three seasons in Tempe, including a National Championship in 2011. Escobedo is currently 11-2 with a 0.80 ERA and an incredible 138 strikeouts to just 11 walks - 12.5:1 K:BB ratio that will be tough to top on the national level. She has posted eight complete game shutouts - allowing just a single hit in six 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 10 earned runs this season and has allowed just six base-runners on third base the entire season. She currently ranks second nationally in strikeouts and is first in shutouts.
100 Starts For Escobedo
Senior Dallas Escobedo now has 116 starts as a Sun Devil. In her career, Escobedo is second at ASU in wins (102), 16 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 138 strikeouts this season, Escobedo‘s career number sits at 1,024 and she became just the second Sun Devil in history to eclipse the 1,000 K mark with against her very first batter of the Judi Garman Classic and just the 14th player in Pac-12 history to accomplish the feat.
Add It To The Trophy Case
Dallas Escobedo went 4-0 last week and put up some gaudy number at pitcher in the process en rout to a sweep of every major national and conference Player of the Week award. She was named the National Player of the Week by both the NFCA and USA Softball and the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week as well. Escobedo registered a 0.26 ERA and 38 strikeouts over 27 innings of work. Over the course of the four victories, Escobedo held her opposition to a paltry .060 batting average and a grand total of five hits. Included among her impressive efforts was her fourth career no-hitter, earned during a 13-strikeout blanking of Longwood, a one-hit shutout of then-No. 5 Michigan (nine K’s), 10 strikeouts while permitting just a single base knock in outlasting then-No. 16 Nebraska, 1-0 (8 inn.), and five innings of three-hit ball while allowing her only earned run for the week in a 9-1 (5 inn.) rout of Wisconsin. It was her first NFCA honor, third USA Softball award and the seventh Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week honor for the senior ace. She was also named the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week earlier this season.
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 1.14 ERA this season with just 12 earned runs allowed and a team-leading 13 wins to her record, pitching complete games in nine games this season, eight 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 .224 batting average. Popescue has also been a capable fielder with 26 assists and three puts outs with zero errors thus far on the season. Popescue currently ranks third nationally in victories.
‘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 .440 batting average this season and tied for the team lead with an 18-game reached base safely streak earlier this season. Her .506 on-base percentage currently leads the squad. Her 33 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. She also leads the team by two games in most games with three or more hits with four such games. 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 28 attempts.
Red Bull Gives You Wigness
The hottest player on the Sun Devil offensive roster has been senior Bailey Wigness. Wigness is batting .500 in the last two weekends of action (11 games) with 10 hits on 20 at bats. She has a team-leading .565 on-base percentage in that time with two stolen bases. It was her single to the pitcher in the bottom of the eighth inning against then-No. 16 Nebraska that brought home the game-winning walk-off run. In five games at the Judi Garman Classic, Wigness had six hits on 10 at-bats and an exceptional .667 on-base percentage at the tournament. Wigness has advanced runners on 20 of 30 chances (.667) this season - easily leading the team in the category.
Alix Johnson has been among ASU’s most reliable base runners this season. Johnson is batting .338 on the season with a .500 OBP% that is good for second on the team behind Freeman. At one point, Johnson had reached safely in 18 consecutive games, one of just three Sun Devils to accomplish the feat. She is second on 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 24 walks pace the team - and also tops the conference - and she has successfully advanced runners on 25 of 42 opportunities (.595) this season - the second highest total among Sun Devils with at least 20 chances in that situation this year.
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 .342 with 22 RBI and a team-leading 51 total bases this season. 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 and continues to bring runners home. The junior is now batting .326 on the year with five home runs but has quietly climbed the team lead for RBI with 27 - four more than any other Sun Devil on the squad. Steele has been the Sun Devils’ most successful batter when it comes to advancing runners, doing so 34 times of 67 attempts (.507) - four more hits than any other batter. Steele also leads the team with 13 hits when facing two outs on 34 chances (.382). As if that weren’t enough, Steele also has posted the most hits with runners in scoring position in logging 14 hits in such situations. She has 11 RBI in the past two weekends on action.
‘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 .392 on the year (third on the team) with a team-leading nine doubles in the process. Her 29 hits are second on the squad while she has posted a solid .451 on-base percentage. Caporuscio scored the game-winning run against then No. 16 Nebraska in extra inning at the Judi Garman Classic and was responsible for the game winning RBI and eventual run against then No. 5 Michigan to open the tournament.
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 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 is second on the team with a .672 slugging percentage and has drawn 17 walks on the season, which is good for second on the team.
While numerous Sun Devil newcomers have shined other the spotlight this season, none have had as impressive an impact as Chelsea Gonzales. The freshman is second on the team with a .403 batting average and has been as good as any player when it comes to getting her bat on the ball. Gonzales has struck out just five times this season - the least among Sun Devil starters - and has posted a .441 on-base percentage. Gonzales is batting .419 in the last two weekends of action with a team-leading 13 hits and 20 total bases in that span.
Home Run Derby
There have been plenty of longballs this season for the Sun Devils, who are currently second in the Pac-12 with 38 this far this season. 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 81 home runs at its current clip if it played 62 games as it did last season. ASU has a home run in all but nine 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 five home runs to date - a mark that is leads the Pac-12, despite playing several more games than any conference school.
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 33 stolen bases on 42 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 100 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 78-of-228 (.342) - just below the team’s .350 overall average - with two outs. Of those hits, the offense has provided 67 of the team’s 189 RBI (35.4 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 102-of-277 (.368) while being exceptional at bringing runners home from third with less than two outs, going 48-of-73 in such situations (.658). 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 251-of-463 (.542) 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 75 of 162 times (.463) while the Sun Devils are 105-of-310 (.339) 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.
Home Run Records
Five current Sun Devils rank among the top 20 on the all-time home run list at ASU. Amber Freeman is tied for seventh with 34, Alix Johnson is tied for 10th with 32, 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. 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 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.