(Photo: Alli Cline/WCSN)
The wait is finally over. Thursday, Sun Devil Softball will kick off the 2016 campaign with a jammed pack weekend at Farrington Stadium.
The annual Kajikawa Classic will feature 32 teams over a span of five days. Multiple ranked programs will take part in the opening weekend showcase.
ASU will have a long weekend ahead of them with multiple tests throughout the tournament. The Devils will host seven games in five days. Co-head coach Robert Wagner thinks this is the longest start to a season he’s ever been apart off, but he’s not worried about his team.
“They’re elite athletes. We have enough people to give girls some rest and enough pitching to spread out the innings,” Wagner said. “So with some depth I don’t think it will be a challenge.”
Utah State and San Jose State
Utah State is a perfect team for ASU to start its season against. Last season the Aggies went 19-36 overall with a relatively easy schedule. The team is returning their best pitcher (and arguably best hitter) Noelle Johnson. She posted a 4.04 ERA including 21 complete games. Sarah Chow is another player to watch out for. The senior outfielder batted over .400 in 2015.
Expect to see sophomore standout Breanna Macha in the circle for the season opener.
The back end of the doubleheader will be a harder test for ASU. San Jose State had a very successful season last year with a 37-19 record virtually the opposite of their in conference competitor Utah State.
San Jose State won’t be losing much offensively, but on the rubber the Spartans say goodbye to their dynamic starting pitching duo. Allison Lang and Madison Fish played major roles in SJSU’s winning season and Thursday we’ll find out if a solid replacement has been found.
Kelsey Kessler will most likely receive her first start as a Sun Devil in this game, a moment she’s been waiting a long time for.
“It’s hard to sleep at night I’m so excited,” Kessler said.
The redshirt junior even remembers the exact day she last pitched in a game. That would be May 17th 2014.
As the Devils move to Friday they will face the highest ranked team in the Kajikawa Classic: Tennessee. The Volunteers are ranked No. 8/9 in the country coming into the season. You could say that this ranking is low given that they made a run to the College World Series in 2015.
Rainey Gaffin returns for Tennesse and has been named to the 2016 USA Softball Top 50 “Watch List”. Last season see had a 2.17 ERA while also batting .315 at the plate. Not to mention last season the Volunteers hit a team record 100 homeruns so watch out for the long ball at Farrington Stadium.
Whoever starts this game for ASU will establish early who most likely will be the ace of the team.
ASU has faced East Carolina three times in the past and it has been very one sided. The Devils have won the three previous matchups by a combined score of 33-1. The Pirates are coming to Tempe after a less than stellar 2015 but are returning seven starters in the field, so they could be much improved.
Portland State and San Diego
The Sun Devils’ Valentine’s gift will be a doubleheader Sunday at Farrington Stadium. Portland State should be a walk in the park for ASU especially because the Sun Devils should be rested, only having to play one game the previous day.
San Diego won’t bring the same ease. The Toreros finished over .500 last season and are on the rise. USD is returning its ace in Paige Von Sprecken who posted a 2.29 ERA and logged 200 innings. This could be a tough matchup for ASU.
Another tough test for the Sun Devils comes Monday against the No. 17/18 team in the country. The Wildcats will look to make a run in this tournament and most likely both teams will come into this game with no more than one loss.
Kentucky is the real deal entering its third season in a row inside the top 25. Pitcher Kelsey Nunley will be leading the way for Kentucky. She is the schools all time leaders in ERA, wins and saves.
ASU has its fair share of unknowns going into the season and this weekend will be an interesting test for the new look offense. Seven games in five days is not the easiest way to start a season, but at least they’ll have the warm Tempe weather on their side.
You can catch every ASU game from the Kajikawa Classic on the Pac-12 digital stream.