(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
The No. 17 Arizona State Sun Devils are looking forward to the Littlewood Classic this weekend to build upon an already stellar start to the season.
With last weekend out of the way the Sun Devils made a big statement by knocking off then-No. 8 Tennessee 5-4 in extra innings. The team went 6-1 in its first weekend of play. The only game it dropped was the final game to then-No. 18 Kentucky by a score of 5-3.
This weekend of softball is a little bit different for the Sun Devils as they will not have any powerhouse teams on the schedule. That being said, it does not change how the team prepares.
“We got a day off and we are back to the grind,” senior outfielder Jennifer Soria said.
Some Sun Devils have stood out early this season, and look for them to continue to do so this weekend as well.
Soria has rocketed out of the gates to open this year up.
Soria has been everything that the Sun Devils have needed on this young season from the leadoff spot. She has posted the third best on base percentage on the team at .571 and has consistently come through in clutch situations, as she is second on the team with ten RBIs.
Coming into the season it was relatively known that the team would be lacking power, but junior shortstop Chelsea Gonzales has made up for that. With three doubles and two home runs, Gonzales has her slugging percentage up to .895, the best on the team.
“It has been awesome,” co-interim head coach Letty Olivarez said. “They’ve (Soria and Gonzales) been able to produce when asked of them. It’s definitely been helpful to the pitchers to release that pressure to have people be able to support them.”
ASU’s pitching rotation has been something of an enigma at the beginning of the season.
With three viable arms in sophomore right-handed pitchers Breanna Macha and Dale Ryndak, as well as redshirt junior right-handed pitcher Kelsey Kessler, the Sun Devils can do multiple things.
It was apparent that all three of the pitchers would get starts and find themselves in relief appearances. Macha got one more start than both Ryndak and Kessler as she had three, while Kessler got one more relief appearance than the other two.
The staff posted a strong 1.67 combined ERA.
“My plan is to be able to get each one of them a start,” Olivarez said. “I haven’t really sat out which games yet, but I’m hoping that they’ll each get some innings in.”
The weekend opens up with a doubleheader on Friday against Michigan State and Memphis. Both teams played last weekend in the Florida Gulf Coast University tournament, with Michigan State going 4-1 while Memphis went 1-4.
The Sun Devils will have a tough matchup against Michigan State if the Spartans throw redshirt sophomore pitcher Kristina Zalewski into the circle. Zalewski has started two games this season and pitched one complete game.
On Saturday the doubleheader is against Illinois State and Northern Iowa. Neither team has played a gauntlet of a schedule yet, but Illinois State is 1-4 and Northern Iowa is 4-2.
Finally on Sunday ASU will wrap up the Littlewood Classic against a 3-2 Montana team.
What the Grizzles may lack in offensive numbers they make up for in pitching. Three of the five pitchers for the Grizzles have sub-2.00 ERAs. Freshman right-handed pitcher Sara Stephenson leads that rotation with a 0.70 ERA and has two wins early this year.
Although this weekend’s schedule does not boast the big name teams like last weekend’s tournament, it should be a good stretch of softball for the Sun Devils.
“Every matchup stands out to me,” Soria said. “We try and compete the same with every team. We just try to play our game. Our matchup is ourselves.”