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ASU Softball: Pac-12 play resumes as the Sun Devils head to the Bay Area

(Photo: Elaine Wilson/WCSN)

It’s all smiles after a series sweep, but its time to get back down to business for No. 21 Arizona State. ASU heads to the Bay Area to take on California (14-12-1) in its second Pac-12 series of the season.

The Sun Devils played one of their best stretches of softball last weekend against Texas Tech. The pitching was fantastic allowing no more than three runs in a game. Adding to that the offense seemed to find some power notching six home runs.

This series will feature a Cal team that has won three of its last four games including a series win against Oregon State who was ranked No. 24 at the time.

The Golden Bears are a scrappy offensive team that relies on base hits and speed to drive home runs. As a team they have stolen 38 bases this season led by senior Jazmyn Jackson accounting for 12 of those.

ASU has been focusing on specific parts of the game in practice to prepare for this dynamic team.

“We’ve been working a little bit more on fielding, and just being able to defend our own circle,” co-head coach Letty Olivarez said.

The Sun Devil bats will also have some work to do this weekend. California has a deep pitching staff, which includes three pitchers who split time on the rubber. As a staff they have posted a 2.34 ERA this season.

Nisa Ontiveros is the ace in the circle. Expect to see her in the opener Friday. The 5-foot-10 senior has thrown five complete games and has struck out 72 batters this year.

Keys to the Game

Keep pitches high

Kelsey Kessler stressed that the key to stopping this Cal team is to key the ball up in the zone.

The reason for this is that the Golden Bears do not have much power. They have only hit 13 home runs this season as a team, which is less than half of what an average power hitting team in ASU has produced.

“You want to get them to pop up as much as possible, which is more my style of pitching,” Kessler said.

Where you can get into trouble is when Cal is able to play small ball. They can hurt you by getting on base with singles and then using their speed from there.

This is Kessler’s weekend to dominate. The junior transfer showed that she was feeling good lately throwing a six inning no hitter, and combined for all three wins for the Sun Devils against Texas Tech last weekend.

Play your game

It is easy to fall in love with swinging for the fences. There are multiple players on Arizona State who are capable of hitting the long ball, but that doesn’t mean it should be the goal. Co-interim head coach Robert Wagner stressed they have to be creative in how they produce runs.

“Last year we could sit back and wait for the home run,” Wagner said. “This year we can’t do that. We have to find other ways to get it done.”

Wagner noted that they are a balanced team and that is what they should strive to be. This season they are dead even with 39 home runs and 39 stolen bases.

This weekend against Cal they will be facing a talented pitching staff and can’t expect to rely on just the long ball.

The staple for consistency and contact offensively for this team have been Taylor Becerra and Nichole Chilson who are batting .429 and .391 respectively. Senior Chelsea Gonzales has also emerged out of her short slump and will provide some much needed power this weekend. Led by this charge ASU is primed to thrive against the Golden Bears.

The action begins Friday at 4 p.m. in Berkeley. You can catch the games on the Pac-12 Network.

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