In less than a week, the Arizona State softball team will suit up for another season with goals of making it back to the Women’s College World Series for a fourth straight season.
There will be a different feel around Farrington Stadium as head coach Clint Myers left for the same position with Auburn University in June. But within a couple of weeks of Myers’ departure, the Sun Devils hired Ball State coach Craig Nicholson. Nicholson’s first season with the Sun Devils should be very successful as the Sun Devils have one of the most talented teams in the nation.
The Sun Devils return eight starters from last year from a team that made it to Oklahoma City. Still, the Sun Devils saw their season end earlier than they would have hoped after losing their first two games at the WCWS.
Arizona State is led by junior catcher Amber Freeman who was named Pac-12 Player of the Year and also played on the USA Softball Women’s National Team. Freeman was by far Arizona States’s most feared hitter as she could take any pitch deep, finishing the season with 18 home runs and an average of .361. The summer, her experience with USA Softball benefited her as she teamed up with some of the best players in the world.
Arizona State also returns its two best pitchers in Dallas Escobedo and Mackenzie Popescue who combined to go 49-12 last year. What made the duo so effective was their differences as pitchers. Escobedo pitched for strikeouts while Popescue kept the ball low in the zone and relied on her defense to get her out of innings. Escobedo is regarded as one of the best pitchers in the nation and Popescue did a fantastic job last year of being a solid number two starter.
Some other notable returners include shortstop Cheyenne Coyle (.358 BA, 20 HR, 66 RBI), right fielder Bailey Wigness (team-leading .376 average), third baseman Haley Steele (.330 BA, 12 HR, 47 RBI), and center fielder Alix Johnson (.324 BA, 11 HR, 35 RBI).
The Sun Devils have tons of leadership returning from last year’s team. Entering this season, the Sun Devils’ mindset is locked in on returning to Oklahoma City and bringing a title back to Tempe. Although Nicholson will be in his first season with the team, the combination of the Sun Devils’ talent and their veteran leadership should lead them into the championship conversation come June.
You can reach Julian Lopez on Twitter @juliansdayoff22 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org