After months of preparation, the Arizona State softball team will finally open its season up on Thursday when the Sun Devils host Creighton at 5 p.m. as part of the Kajikawa Classic. The Sun Devils will have a busy weekend as they play six games from Thursday to Sunday but none of the teams that they play made the NCAA Tournament last year.
The Sun Devils made the Women’s College World Series last year and return a majority of their starting lineup headlined by pitcher Dallas Escobedo and catcher Amber Freeman. Escobedo went 30-6 last year and needs 27 wins this year to tie Katie Burkhart’s program record for career wins. Freeman had a phenomenal 2013 season as she was named a first team All-American, Pac-12 Player of the Year, and spent her summer on the Team USA Softball Team.
Head coach Craig Nicholson will be making his coaching debut after being hired on June 30 of last year. He takes over for Clint Myers, who left Arizona State to become the head coach at Auburn. Here are a couple of storylines to watch this weekend.
1. Nicholson’s debut
Craig Nicholson takes over an Arizona State team that has made it to the WCWS in seven of the past eight seasons and has very high expectations this year. The Sun Devils shouldn’t have a problem in their first six games and are coming off of a season in which they set a school record by starting the season 21-0. What will Nicholson be looking for during the opening weekend?
“Wins,” Nicholson said with a smile on his face at ASU Softball media day this past Saturday. “Big thing right now is that our team is excited to play someone with a different uniform on and go compete at a high level and play the game hard.”
2. Sun Devils’ offense
This team is filled with tons of offense from top to bottom and should be near the top of the nation in runs per game by the end of the season. The Sun Devils averaged just over 6.7 runs per game last year. They led almost every category in the Pac-12 last year and had 42 more runs than the next best scoring team in the Pac-12, the Oregon Ducks.
Freeman will be the No. 1 target for opposing pitchers but who will be No. 2? Will it be Cheyenne Coyle, the power-hitting shortstop who led the team with 66 RBIs last year? Will it be outfielder Alix Johnson, the 2012 First Team All-American who is a great contact hitter? Or will a player like 1B/2B Nikki Girard or 1B Bethany Kemp have a breakout season? All we know is that this Sun Devil team will score early and often this season.
3. Newcomers making their Sun Devil debut
The Sun Devils will not be playing WCWS caliber teams this weekend so Nicholson will have the chance to give a majority of his team some action. Arizona State brought in five recruits this offseason (four freshman and one junior college transfer) and chances are that a few will all be able to make their Sun Devil debut this weekend.
The road to Oklahoma City starts this weekend and for a full schedule of the Kajikawa Classic, check out http://www.thesundevils.com/pdf9/2595788.pdf.
You can reach Julian Lopez on Twitter @juliansdayoff22 or via email at email@example.com