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Courtesy: Sun Devil Athletics
ASU Softball Readies For Territorial Cup Clash vs. the Wildcats
Courtesy: Sun Devil Athletics
Release: 03/27/2014
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TEMPE -- The No. 11/8 Arizona State University softball team remains at home this weekend as the squad welcomes in-state rival, No. 8/No. 9 Arizona, for a three-game series set to begin on Friday, March 28.  Friday’s game will get underway at 5 p.m. PT/MT at Farrington Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., while Saturday and Sunday’s games are scheduled for a 7 p.m. PT/MT start time.  All games this weekend will be broadcast live on the Pac-12 Networks. A Territorial Cup point will be on the line in the contest, with whichever team that wins the series laying its claim to the point. 

#10THINGS (Twitter-Friendly Notes) 

@ASUSoftball has already reached last year’s stolen base attempt number at 45 and has been successful on 36 of those. 

@ASUSoftball has been ranked in the top-10 in 120 of the last 131 @NFCAOrg Polls and have been ranked in all 131 of those polls

@CheyCoyle27 is now 14th in @ASUSoftball history with 28 home runs, despite playing just over season-and-a-half in Tempe.

Elizabeth Caporuscio is batting .611 (11-of-18) this season when behind the count and facing a 0-1, 0-2 or 1-2 count on the board.

@ASUSoftball has won seven of last nine games and two of last three series against @UA_Softball, Dropped series in Tucson last year.  

@ASUSoftball and @UA_Softball are ranked third and first, respectively, in @NCAASoftball in batting average and slugging percentage. 

@ASUSoftball has a home run in 24 of the team’s 35 games played this season and multiple home runs in 13 of those games. 

Alix Johnson (@MissJohnson_33) was a #rockstar against Stanford, robbing two homers, hit ame-tying RBI and scored 7 runs in the series.

@BethyKemp already has nine home runs this season, already matching last year’s total and nine more than her freshman year. 

 @ASUSoftball is 7-of-53 (.132) w/ RISP in 5 losses compared to 115-of-292 (.394) w/ RISP in the teams 30 wins.

Scouting the Opposition

The Sun Devils are 93-98 all-time against Arizona in a series that dates back to 1971.  The series has been a bit more lopsided in the Wildcats favor during the Pac-12 era, with UA owning an 80-35 record since ASU joined the Pac-12 in 1986. The series has evened up a bit in recent years with the Sun Devils winning seven of the last nine, though ASU dropped the series in Tucson last season on the heels of several dramatic games. Since 1986, ASU has won just six total series against the perennial powerhouse. 

After what could be considered a down year by Wildcat standards, the UA is back to form this season, currently ranked eighth in the NFCA poll and ninth in the ESPN poll.  Arizona enters the series with a 3-3 record in conference play, getting swept by No. 1 UCLA before taking all three games against Oregon State and the Wildcats are now 28-6 overall this season.  

The Wildcats are arguably the top offensive team in the nation, ranked first in batting average (.357), home runs (51) and slugging percentage (.628), amassing 270 runs this season - 22 more than ASU in second place. Arizona has four players batting over .400 this season. led by Kelsey Rodriguez’s .462 average and have eight starters batting over .300 for the season.

Arizona doesn’t give up much on the defensive end either, posting a Pac-12-leading .980 fielding percentage with a conference-low 17 errors committed this season. It has been a bit of a committee approach in the circle this season as five different players have started this season with all of them picking up at least five starts. Estela Pinon has headed the group, posting a 1.09 ERA this season and a 9-4 record as she leads the squad with 10 starts.  ASU’s five pitchers have a combined ERA of just 1.47 while holding opponents to a batting average of .186. If there is a chink in the armor, its the fact that Arizona has given up 113 walks on the season, ranked second to last in the Pac-12. The Sun Devils are third in the Pac-12 with 145 walks drawn this season.

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, 2013), 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

This is the second consecutive weekend that the Sun Devils will be scheduled to be broadcast on the Pac-12 Networks with all three games slated to be shown on television. Anne Marie Anderson will provide the call for the series with Jessica Mendoza alongside as analyst. 

It is important to note that only fans with access to the Pac-12 Networks through their local provider will be able to view this weekend’s games through the Pac-12 Networks channel or online at the Pac-12.com. Contact your local provider for more details. Additionally, fans are encouraged to stay tuned to ASU softball via social media outlets by following @ASUSoftball on Twitter or liking the team on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/ASUSoftball.

In The Rankings

Despite a sweep of then-nationally ranked Stanford at home this past weekend, the Sun Devils remained locked at No. 11 in the NFCA Poll and No. 8 in the ESPN poll this week.  

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 131 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 131 polls that have taken place since the team entered the rankings in 2006. 

A Look Back - Stanford 

The No 11 Sun Devil softball team improved to 30-5 and 4-2 in Pac-12 play as the team swept the series against then-No. 24 Stanford this past weekend.  ASU knocked off the Cardinal 16-15 in a nine-inning, high scoring affair on Saturday to open the series in a game that saw the Sun Devils blow a six-run lead in the seventh tying things in the bottom half of the inning and winning the game on a walk-off hit by pitch with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning. Things were far less dramatic in a five-inning, 9-0 victory on Sunday to lock up the series before bringing the heart rate back up in the series finale, coming back from five runs down to win the game, 7-5, on a Cheyenne Coyle walk-off three-run home run.  

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 13-4 with a 1.60 ERA and an incredible 175 strikeouts to just 19 walks - a 9.2:1 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 currently ranks second nationally in strikeouts and third in shutouts.  Before anyone points to her four losses, it is worth noting opponents only managed 12 runs in those games (3.0 per game) but the Sun Devil offense only mustered just seven runs (1.8 per game) total.  On the flipside, the ASU offense has 90 runs in Escobedo’s victories (6.9 per game) and truly had the senior’s back in the Stanford series when Escobedo gave up 12 total earned runs - nearly twice her total entering the series - but still came away with two victories in the contest.

100 Starts For Escobedo

Senior Dallas Escobedo now has 120 starts as a Sun Devil. In her career, Escobedo is second at ASU in wins (104), 14 shy of tying Katie Burkhart for first on the time all-time list. With 175 strikeouts this season, Escobedo‘s career number sits at 1,061 and she became just the second Sun Devil in history to eclipse the 1,000 K mark with with a strikeout against her very first batter of the Judi Garman Classic. She became just the 14th player in Pac-12 history to accomplish the feat and currently ranks 63rd in NCAA career history for total strikeouts and is well on pace to continue to climb that leaderboard as the season continues. One significant area of improvement for the senior is the fact that she has given up just nine home runs this season after giving up a whopping 39 last season, giving up 1.1 per every seven innings pitched. That number has gone down drastically this season as she is giving up just .48 home runs per seven innings thus far in 2014.   

Add It To The Trophy Case

Dallas Escobedo went 4-0 at the Judi Garman Classic 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. 

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 1.47 ERA this season with just 18 earned runs allowed and a team-leading 15 wins to her record (11th nationally) to just one loss, pitching complete games in 11 games this season, 10 of those being victories. Popescue gave up her very first home run against Detroit but that’s the only only she has given up this season, leading the Pac-12 in the category. Popescue has also been a capable fielder with 32 assists and four puts outs with zero errors thus far on the season.  

‘Ber, It’s Cold In Here

The reining Pac-12 Player of the Year, Amber Freeman, continues to consistently get it done at the plate. She leads the team with a .447 batting average this season that is fourth in the Pac-12 and tied for the team lead with an 18-game reached base safely streak earlier this season.  Freeman leads the team with 42 hits and a .518 OBP this season as well while ranking third in RBI with 29. 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 and is currently on a seven game hitting streak. She also leads the team in most games with three or more hits, doing so in five games this year - three more than any other Sun Devil. Freeman has been pivotal in keeping inning going and is tied for the team lead with 14 hits when she’s at bat with two outs at the board on 34 attempts (.412). 

Red Bull Gives You Wigness

One of the hottest players on the Sun Devil offensive roster has been senior Bailey Wigness.  Wigness is batting .447 in the last month of action (18 games) with 17 hits on 38 at bats. She has a team-leading .533 on-base percentage in that time - over 50 points higher than any other Sun Devil - with three 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 1-0 victory at the Judi Garman Classic. Wigness moved to the two-hole in the secon game of the series against Oregon State for the first time this season and is batting .412 with a .500 on-base percentage since making the switch. Wigness has advanced runners on 29 of 43 chances (.674) this season - easily leading the team in the category by over 100 points over anyone who has had at least 40 oppurtunities to advance runners. 

AlixIsOnFire

Alix Johnson has been among ASU’s most reliable base runners this season.  Johnson is batting .341 on the season with a .508 OBP% that is good for second on the team behind Freeman while her 36 runs scored are 11 more than any other Sun Devil. 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 eight doubles this season and has already matcher her 2013 total in the category.  Additionally, Johnson leads with 11 stolen bases on 12 attempts. Her 32 walks pace the team and are three more than anyone else conference and she has successfully advanced runners on 31 of 51 opportunities (.608) this season. Johnson was the savior in the opening game of the Stanford series, scoring four runs in addition to two home-run saving catches and the game-tying RBI double in the bottom of the seventh inning.

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 .340 with 30 RBI and 64 total bases this season, ranking second in RBI and leading in total bases. Coyle has a team leading 11 hits on 13 attempts (.846) when she has a runner on third and less than two outs. She was the hero of the final game of the Stanford series, launching a three-run shot to the scoreboard in the bottom of the seventh to cap a five-run comeback and score her first walk-off hit of the season in a 7-5 victory. 

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 .358 on the year with six home runs and has quietly climbed  the team lead for RBI with 34 - 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 44 times of 84 attempts (.524) - the most hits of any batter in that situation. Steele also leads the team with 14 hits when facing two outs on 40 chances (.350). As if that weren’t enough, Steele also has posted the most hits with runners in scoring position in logging 19 hits in such situations while also posting a team-leading 13 two-out RBIs.   

‘Ruscio, ‘Ruscio, ‘RU-SCI-OOOOOO

Elizabeth Caporuscio is another Sun Devil who has slowly been creeping up the batting average list for the Sun Devils and now finds herself batting .375 on the year (second on the team) with a team-leading 12 doubles in the process - ranking second in the Pac-12 in the category. Her 36 hits are third on the squad while she has posted a solid .423 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. She is currently second on the team with 11 two-out RBIs and has proven she is the hitter you want with the bases loaded, leading the team with four hits in seven opportunities (.571) in the situation thus far this season.  

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 nine home runs this season and sits tied for fourth in the Pac-12 in the category. Kemp leads the team with a .702 slugging percentage and has drawn 20 walks on the season, which is good for second on the team and ninth in the Pac-12. Kemp has already matched last year total with nine homers this season and - with 18 career home runs to date - moved into a tie for 19th on ASU’s all-time home run list

Chelsea Lately

While numerous Sun Devil newcomers have shined in  the spotlight this season, none have had as impressive an impact as Chelsea Gonzales.  The freshman is batting .367 on the season - third on the team - and has been exceptional at 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 .395 on-base percentage. She was the catalyst behind both of ASU’s come-from-behind victories against Stanford, getting an RBI before scoring the game-tying run in the first game of the series while also getting the single that put the winning run on third base.  She also led off ASU’s five-run seventh-inning with a hit in the final game of the series in the team’s walk-off victory. 

Home Run Derby

There have been plenty of longballs this season for the Sun Devils, who are currently second in the Pac-12 with 46 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 11 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 10 home runs to date - a mark that is second in the Pac-12, despite playing several more games than the majority of conference’s 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 36 stolen bases on 45 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 79 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 done a fine job of getting it done with two outs on the board.  ASU is 92-of-282 (.326) - just below the team’s .349 overall average - with two outs. Of those hits, the offense has provided 82 of the team’s 230 RBI (35.7 percent) coming with two outs on the board.  

No Easy Outs

The Sun Devils have proven that they aren’t so easy to strikeout when falling behind on the count.  When facing a 0-1, 0-2 or 1-2 count this season, the Sun Devils are batting .376 (58-of-154). 

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 122-of-345 (.354) while being exceptional at bringing runners home from third with less than two outs, going 61-of-95 in such situations (.642). 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 329-of-593 (.555) 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 97 of 201 times (.483) while the Sun Devils are 126-of-370 (.341) with the bases empty on the year.  To show the importance of these numbers, is just 7-of-53 (.132) with runners in scoring position in the team’s five losses and 1-of-6 (.167) with a runner on third and less than two outs. Bringing runners home has also been an issue for ASU at times, as the team has stranded 228 runners this season compared to just 180 on the opponent’s side. 

Rally Cry

ASU’s two come-from-behind victories late in the game in the Stanford series were important for the fact that that was an area that ASU had struggled in this season. Prior to the Cardinal series, ASU was 0-5 when trailing after the fifth, sixth or top of the seven innings in games this season. ASU stifled that stigma twice against Stanford as they came back from a two-run deficit in the seventh to tie the game and win in extras in the first game of the series before a five-run walk-off rally in the final game 

Home Run Records

Six current Sun Devils rank among the top 20 on the all-time home run list at ASU. Amber Freeman is seventh with 35, Alix Johnson is 10th with 33, Haley Steele is tied for 11th with 31, Cheyenne Coyle is 14th with 28, Elizabeth Caporuscio is 17th with 22 and Bethany Kemp entered the ranks this season and is currently tied for 19th with 18. 

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.  

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

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