TEMPE -- The No. 22/20 Arizona State University softball team will open the 2015 season this Thursday, Feb. 11 as it welcomes 31 other teams to Tempe in celebration of the annual Kajikawa Classic.
The Sun Devils will take part in seven games over five days starting with the season opener against Utah State on Thursday at 4:30 p.m. MT. The weekend will also include Top-25 contests against a pair of SEC powers in No. 8/9 Tennessee on Friday at 7:30 p.m. MT and No. 17/18 Kentucky on Monday at 3 p.m. MT.
The Sun Devils will also take on San Jose State, East Carolina, Portland State and San Diego over the course of the weekend.
LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION
Fans will be able to view or listen to all seven games this weekend via one medium or another. The first six games of the tournament, starting with the Sun Devil season opener, will be streamed live via the Pac-12 Networks Digitial Stream and is available at the following link: http://pac-12.com/videos/arizona-state-university
The Sun Devils will also take part in their first-ever non-conference game to be broadcast live on the Pac-12 Networks as the team’s tilt against Kentucky on Monday, Feb. 15 will be available nationally beginning at 3 p.m. MT.
Additionally, all seven games will be broadcast live through KASC Blaze Radio with an online stream available at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/blaze-sports.
ABOUT THE TOURNEY
Since the beginning of ASU Softball in 1966, ASU has hosted the 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 one final time to the `Kajikawa Classic’, after “Mr. Sun Devil” himself, Bill Kajikawa, a legendary coach and founder of Sun Devil athletics.
Eleven of the 32 teams in this year’s tournament advanced the the NCAA Tournament in 2015 and six enter the season ranked in the top 25 nationally in the NFCA Preseason Top-25 Coaches Poll.
The tournament will feature 85 games played by 32 teams over four days at five separate fields, marking it as the second-largest preseason tournament nationally all season long.
- The Sun Devils made their 27th appearance in NCAA Tournament history in 2015, the sixth-highest tally of the 64 teams in the tournament behind only Fresno St., UCLA, California, Arizona and Florida State.
- It also marked the 11th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance for ASU.
- ASU is 87-53 all-time in the NCAA Tournament and is 57-19 since 2006 with two NCAA Championships and seven trips to the WCWS as wel as an incredible 32-5 record at home in the span.
NOTE ON WCWS
- The Sun Devils have advanced the WCWS in seven of the last 10 seasons, more than any other program in the nation in that time frame. Florida is second with six in that span.
- In that 10-year span, ASU has one of the top winning percentages in the country with a 509-136-1 record since 2006. The .788 win percentage in that time is good for sixth nationally.
Winning Percentage Since 2006 (Prior to 2016)
1. Alabama - .826 (533-112)
2. Florida - .820 (552-121)
3. Michigan - .806 (492-118)
4. Oklahoma - .805 (484-117-1)
5. Tennessee - .796 (514-131-1)
6. Arizona State - .788 (509-136-1)
THE VIEW FROM THE TOP
- The Sun Devils have been ranked in the NFCA Coaches Poll 157 consecutive times, 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 129 of the 157 polls that have taken place since the team entered the rankings in 2006.
- ASU is one of just five programs to lay a claim to being in every poll since early in that 2006 season, joining Michigan, UCLA, Oklahoma and Alabama at the top of the list.
- The Sun Devils inclusion in the Top 25 in this year’s NFCA Preseason Poll marks the 10th consecutive preseason poll the Sun Devils have made an appearance.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
- Of ASU’s 58 games last season, 26 were against squads ranked nationally - going 11-15 in those games. ASU went 18-14 in its last 32 games and all but nine of those games came against teams that were ranked.
- The Devils had six victories last season against teams that were ranked in the top-10 at the time of the tilt.
- The Sun Devil schedule was rated as the seventh-toughest Strength of Schedule in the NCAA last regular season with 35 games played against teams in the top 63 final regular season RPI and 20 against teams ranked in the top 25 in those RPI rankings. Eleven of ASU’s losses came against those Top 25 RPI teams.
A LOOK AT THE 2016 SLATE
To be the best, you have to play the best and no teams play as competitive of a schedule as those in perennially elite Pac-12 Conference.
- Six members of the conference were ranked in the NFCA Preseason Poll including No. 6 Oregon, No. 7 UCLA, No. 13 Arizona, No. 20 Washington, No. 21 Cal and the 22nd-ranked Sun Devils while Utah was third among the teams receiving votes.
- ASU will have three-game series scheduled against each of those opponents this season, and will get Oregon, Arizona and Washington at home.
- Also on tap for the Sun Devils in 2016 are games against preseason No. 8 Tennessee, No. 14 Minnesota, No. 15 Missouri, No. 16 Baylor, No. 18 Kentucky, No. 19 James Madison.
- In short, the Sun Devils are slated to play 11 of the 24 teams in the preseason poll this season not named Arizona State.
Junior Chelsea Gonzales will be heavily relied upon this season to lead the team not only at the plate, but in the field as well.
- In her first season as starting shortstop, Gonzales finished with 122 assists and 102 putouts to just 10 errors (.957 fielding percentage). Her .957 fielding percentage was second among Pac-12 shortstops behind only Utah’s Anissa Urtez (.958), who did so in 43 fewer chances.
- Gonzales finished fourth on the team with 11 home runs--surpassing her season total of eight from her freshman campaign - and was fourth with 42 RBI. Her efforts garnered her selections to the All-Pac-12 team as well as the Pac-12 All-Defensive squad.
- She one of 25 semifinalists for the National Freshman of the Year trophy in 2014 while she was also named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team for her efforts. She also became the first Sun Devil in postseason history to hit a home run in three consecutive games that season.
- With 19 career home runs, the junior is currently 20th in ASU career history in the category.
IN THE NIKK OF TIME
Much of ASU’s success last season came from its proficiency in the bottom half of the batting order and leading that charge was Nikki Girard.
- The senior finished the season with a .268 average on the season - one of few Devils whose batting average went UP against both Oregon and Utah and despite the not-so-gawdy numbers, she was someone that always seemed to get a hit when the rest of the team struggled.
- Girard finished with 11 doubles on the season and was a menace to strike out, doing so just five times in the regular season in 149 at bats and was ranked as the second-toughest person to strikeout in the Pac-12 and 10th-toughest nationally enetering the postseason.
- She was one of just two players nationally from a power conference school with five or fewer strikeouts with a minimum of two at bats per game.
- Perhaps the most exciting aspect of her game, however, is her ability to post at least one highlight reel defensive play per game at second base as she finished the year with a solid .963 fielding percentage last season and earned a spot on the All-Pac-12 Defensive team as a result.
- A proven gap-hitter, Girard is tied for 15th in ASU history with 29 career doubles.
Junior catcher Sashel Palacios was perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the 2015 campaign as she went from a reserve role as a freshman to the starting catcher by the midway point of her sophomore season.
- She finished fifth on the team with a .323 average last season. Her .459 on-base percentage was good for third on the team and she was incredibly proficient at advancing baserunners, doing so 52 times in 93 opportunities, a .559 average that was third among the team’s starters.
- Her 141 putouts were second on the team and she led the team with five runners thrown out attempting to steal base.
- Palacios doesn’t have an error during the regular season, earning Pac-12 All-Defensive team honors while also being named a Third-Team All-West Region selection.
PUT ME IN, COACH
Senior Jennifer Soria has been among ASU’s hottest players to close out the 2015 campaign. The recipient of the team’s hardest worker award for two consecutive seasons, Soria perfectly exemplified the John Fogerty classic at centerfield.
- Soria robbed two home runs in the the UCLA series, one of which an incredible leaping grab that tabbed her at No. 5 in Sportscenter’s Top-10 Play and was named by the Pac-12 Networks as one of the Top-12 plays of the year.
- While her defense was exceptional (and earned her All-Pac-12 Defensive Team honors), her work at the plate in the final six games of the regular season was just as impressive.
- Soria led the team with four home runs in that span, two more than any other Sun Devil and her walk-off, two-out three-run shot in the series finale against UCLA helped ASU overcome an eight-run deficit and win the series at the same time.
- Soria was third among the team’s starters with a .471 average in final two series of Pac-12 action with an incredible 1.294 slugging percentage.
ABS OF SPIEL
Senior Abby Spiel quietly become a steady contributor to the Sun Devils last season.
- She finished the season with the team’s second-highest batting average with a .364 clip on 28-of-77 hitting.
- A perfect 3-for-3 on stolen base attempts last season, Spiel will be a vital cog in a different ASU offense this season that will rely so heavily on speed and base running as opposed to the long ball.
- Her speed will also make her a factor in possibly replaciing Elizabeth Caporuscio in left field this season.
BREE IT ON
Breanna Macha established herself as a legitimate pitching option as a true freshman last season and will pick up where she left off following a strong ending to the year
- Macha led the team as a freshman in wins (18), strikeouts (152) and total ERA (3.69) - the fifth-lowest total in the Pac-12 among pitchers with 40 or more appearances.
- She earned All-Pac-12 and NFCA All-West Region honors while being named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman team as well.
- Macha (pronounced maw-haw) finished with 152 strikeouts, the fourth highest total in the Pac-12.
- Her 212.1 innings pitched were second most in the conference while she was third in the conference with five saves.
- The youngster made history against Binghamton, pitching the first extra-inning no-hitter in ASU history in a 1-0, eight-inning victory.
- She went 2-1 with a save at the Judi Garman Classic, becoming one of just two pitchers nationally to take home wins against two top-10 teams on the weekend (Michigan/Baylor) and was named the Pac-12 Freshman of the Week for her performance, the only weekly award by any Sun Devil last season.
- At the Baton Rouge Regional, Macha threw 385 pitches over three days and four games and finished with a 1.75 ERA with 15 strikeouts to just four walks and no home runs allowed, earning All-Regional honors in the process.
A DALE OF TWO CITIES
Sophomore RHP Dale Ryndak is a long ways from her home in Downers Grove, Ill., but that didn’t stop her from asserting herself as the same solid pitcher those watching her in high school remember.
- Ryndak finished with a 14-8 record last season and was fourth in the Pac-12 with 37 batters struck out looking.
- She finished with 143.1 innings pitched on the season, ninth in the conference, and her 82 total strikeouts were 10th in the Pac-12.
WHAT’S THE CATCH?
With two true freshman pitchers in the circle last season, the job of the Sun Devils catchers became that much more critical and ASU’s returning duo of catchers made sure to do their part as the battery mates.
- Katee Aguirre and Sashel Palacios combined for have been 173 recorded putouts and 13 assists with ZERO errors during the regular season for a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.
- The duo’s perfect fielding percentage was notable as there were just seven players in the Pac-12 conference with 50 or more chances during the regular season that did not have a single error.
DOUBLE THE FUN
Without question, one of the biggest turnarounds for the Sun Devils last season came on the defensive end of the ball.
- In 2014, ASU was ranked 203rd out of 289 programs in double plays per game, turning just 13 total on the season for a 0.22 double play per game average.
- ASU turned 35 double plays in 2015, a 0.60 per game average that was good for fourth nationally on the year.
NOT GOING DOWN SWINGING
In some facets of life, going down swinging is considered a compliment. That’s not the case in softball and there weren’t many better than the Devils at avoiding it last season.
- ASU struck out just 135 times during the regular season, a total that was 34 fewer than any other team in the Pac-12 and the lowest of ANY NCAA team last season from a power conference.
- That was good for 16 fewer than the next closest power-5 conference team (Nebraska, 151).
WALK THIS WAY
In addition to not striking out often, the team did it’s fair share of getting plenty of free bases.
- ASU had 276 walks overall in 2015 --the eighth-highest total nationally- to create nearly a 2:1 walk to strikeout ratio.
- During the regular season, ASU worked the count full 214 times (11 percent of 1,798 total plate appearaces) and on the 113 of those full counts where the ball was not put into play, ASU drew 87 walks on the payoff pitch to just 25 strikeouts, an incredible 3.5 to 1 ratio.
A NOTE ON THE LONG BALL
Don’t be surprised to see a different brand of Sun Devil softball in 2016 that moves away from the all-or-nothing offense ASU had for much of the 2015 campaign. This year’s squad will definitely put a much larger focus on small ball and base running and utilzing it overall team speed on the year.
- ASU lost 64 percent of its extra base hits to graduation following last season and returns just 29 of the 81 home runs the Devils hit on the season (35.8 percent).
- Arizona State has developed a reputation for knocking the ball out of the park and did so 81 times last regular season, a total that was second in the Pac-12 and 17th in the nation.
- The team’s 1.43 home runs per game were third in the Pac-12 and 14th nationally.
- ASU had three or more home runs in 10 games last season and had a home run in all but 11 of the 54 games it played during the regular season.
KEEPING IT IN THE PARK
One area the Sun Devil pitching staff will certainly need to improve in is keeping the ball in the park.
- ASU gave up 81 bombs last year and that ranked as the worst total in the entire nation.
- Of the 266 runs scored against the Devils last season, 130 came as a result of home runs - nearly half of the total runs scored against the Devils on the year.
GRAND SLAMMA JAMMA
The Sun Devils have done their fair share of work with the bases loaded in recent season, but have also struggled mightily at times as well.
- The ASU offense knocked six grand slams in 2014, two more than the 2013 season and just two shy of the total from 2012 and 2013 combined (8).
- The Devils hit eight grand slams in 2015 and lived and died by their success with the bases loaded.
- Three of those grand slams resulted in “walk-off” victories, two by the true definition and one forcing a run-rule ending.
- The Devils were just 2-for-30 (.067) with the bases loaded in the team’s 20 losses during the regular season while hitting 33-for-782 (.402) with the bases loaded in the team’s wins.
- All eight grand slams came in victories.
DON’T MISS YOUR CHANCE
ASU’s losses last season didn’t come from a lack of chances. The Sun Devils struggled at times to get run-plating hits in clutch situations and it hurt them in the win column.
- In ASU’s 20 regular season losses, the Devils were just 2-for-30 (.067) with the bases loaded and an inauspicious 34-of-177 (.192) with two outs on the board, unable to keep innings alive.
- In those games, ASU was just 11-of-30 (.367) in bringing home a runner from third with less than two outs and just 28-of-196 (.143) with runners in scoring position.
- In ASU’s regular season victories, the Devils were 33-for-82 (.402) with the bases loaded and 125-for-326 (.383) with two outs.
- The Devils were 154-of-373 (.413) with runners in scoring position in victories and brought a runner from from third with less than two outs on 76-of-115 (.661) chances.
- The biggest difference, however, was that ASU’s left 184 runners on base (9.2 per game) over the course of 20 losses compared to 239 in 34 wins (7.0 per game).
A LOOK BACK - 2016 SEASON
The Sun Devils advanced to the Baton Rouge Regional of the 2015 NCAA Softball Tournament and saw their season come to the end in a heartbreaking extra-inning walk-off RBI by the fifth-ranked Tigers. The Sun Devils finished with a 36-22 overall record and were 12-11 in the historically diffuclt Pac-12 Conference - good for a tie for fourth overall in the league. Amber Freeman concluded one of the most illustrious hitting campaigns in Sun Devil history as she wrapped up her time at ASU with a .389 career batting average - third all-time - and 56 career home runs (fourth in ASU lore). Freeman was named a NFCA First Team All-American, an CoSIDA Academic All-American and the Pac-12 Scholar Athlete of the Year.
The Sun Devils saw the emergence of true freshman hurler Breanna Macha as she would go on to post 18 wins in her first season (fourth in the Pac-12) and wrapped the season up with a gutsy effort in the Baton Rouge Regional where she threw 385 pitches over three days and finished with a 1.75 ERA with 15 strikeouts to just four walks and no home runs allowed.