(Photo: Gabrieller Mercer/WCSN)
Another season of Arizona State softball is here. The team is expected to duplicate last season’s eight place finish in the Pac-12, per the 2017 Pac-12 Coaches Poll. Here are five things to look for on a Sun Devils team trying to exceed outside expectations.
New Coaching Staff
Trisha Ford is taking the reins this season as the new head coach. She coached Fresno State the last four seasons and the team went 82-28-1 in its last two.
Ford also coached in the Pac-12 prior to her stint in Fresno. She was a pitching coach for nine seasons at Stanford and finished her tenure there as the associate head coach. She will look to use that experience to bring ASU back to prominence, and she has a plan in place.
“I think a lot of it is teaching them how to take the field, how to have presence,” Ford said. “Their skill set is their skill set, and they’re working hard on it, but I think you start at the base and you build a solid foundation.”
Ford also brought Carly Wynn – one of her assistants at Fresno State – aboard the coaching staff, as well as Roman Foore, who comes from Chicago in the National Pro Fastpitch League.
Replacing Jennifer Soria and Abby Spiel
The Sun Devils are going to have a new-look outfield this season now that Jennifer Soria and Abby Spiel have graduated. It will be no easy task to replace them as both were key contributors to the team.
Soria hit .348 – good for second on the team last year – with 15 home runs, which tied for fifth in the Pac-12. Also, her 124 total bases ranked third in the conference. Spiel hit .315 and led the team with 13 stolen bases, tied for third most in the Pac-12.
The replacements look to be sophomore Skylar McCarty and freshman Allison Tatnall.
McCarty was an elite hitter coming out of high school, where she posted a .545 batting average and a .599 on-base percentage. She saw limited action last season, only recording two hits and three walks in 16 at-bats.
Tatnall is another hot prospect coming out of high school where she was ranked No. 73 in FloSoftball’s Hot 100 rankings of incoming freshmen. She has the combination of speed and power the Devils will need to replace Soria in the outfield.
Also competing for spots in the ASU outfield are sophomore Avianna Davis and freshman Brianna Wise.
Ulufa Leilua and the returning hitters
While the Sun Devils may have lost their two best outfielders, they will be getting back a number of last season’s key hitters.
The most important returner is first baseman Ulufa Leilua, whose .368 batting average led the team last year and was tied for 20th in the Pac-12.
In addition to Leilua, ASU is returning four other players who hit above .300 last season: junior outfielder Nichole Chilson, sophomore infielder Taylor Becerra, senior catcher Sashel Palacios and senior shortstop Chelsea Gonzales.
Gonzales might be the biggest key of them all as she led the team with 47 RBIs and was second on the team with 12 home runs and 93 total bases last season.
Who will step up in the absence of Kelsey Kessler?
With last season’s ace off to Cal State Fullerton to pitch as a grad student, ASU is in need of a new No. 1 starter. The top two candidates are juniors Breanna Macha and Dale Ryndak.
Based on last season, Ryndak is the favorite to fill the role. She posted a 3.83 ERA in 98.2 innings pitched. But even if Macha isn’t the ace, she will still need to pitch better than last season. She posted a 5.13 ERA in 84.2 innings pitched, a mark that would leave her in competition with the two incoming freshman for starts this season.
However, Ford said both Macha and Ryndak looked solid through the team’s preseason conditioning regiment.
The two freshmen are lefty Giselle Juarez and righty Alyssa Loza. Juarez was ranked No. 45 on FloSoftball’s Hot 100 recruits for this season, while Loza was ranked No. 23. If either of the two upperclassmen can’t step up, these young arms may be called upon to make an impact early in their Sun Devil careers.
Defense wins championships:
OK, so the saying may not apply to the diamond sports, but ASU finished the 2016 season with a Pac-12-best .972 fielding percentage.
The importance of ASU’s defensive play should not be overlooked as this season’s pitchers are going to need all the help they can get in the field.
With a younger pitching staff this season, the Sun Devils must continue the stellar fielding to give their young pitchers confidence.