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Kajikawa Classic preview: start of a tournament run

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If fans of the Arizona State softball team couldn’t wait for the offseason to end, they better prepare themselves for a hectic ride this spring. The No. 4 ranked Sun Devils kick off their 2013 season with 27 home games in 32 days beginning with the highly anticipated Kajikawa Classic that begins on February 7th.

After finishing with an overall record of 53-11, head coach Clint Myers returns a talented core of players that has their eyes set on another run at the Women’s College World Series.

The road to Oklahoma City starts this weekend, as Arizona State will play seven games over a grueling four-day stretch. Fortunately for the Sun Devils, none of their Kajikawa Classic opponents are ranked in the preseason Top 25 poll.

On Thursday night, Arizona State will battle against the New Mexico Lobos. On Friday, the Sun Devils play their first of three double-headers over the weekend with games against Cal State Northridge and Indiana. On Saturday, Arizona State faces its most difficult task of the weekend as the Kentucky Wildcats and Western Michigan Broncos bring their hopes of pulling off an upset to Tempe. On Sunday, the weekend culminates with showdowns against the Bradley Braves and the Boise State Broncos.

Though Arizona State opens up competition with a slate of unranked opponents, the early days of the season pose a difficult challenge. The Sun Devils must find a middle-of-the-order replacement for former shortstop Katelyn Boyd, who graduated last spring.

Boyd led the team in nearly every offensive statistical category including home runs and RBI, but the maroon and gold have a slew of candidates looking to fill her shoes, including University of Florida transfer Cheyenne Coyle.

Coyle produced impressive numbers during her freshman campaign with the Gators and was named to the Women’s College World Series All-Tournament Team in 2011, but she now finds herself working to earn a starting job with the Sun Devils.

Despite Boyd’s loss, the cupboard is anything but bare for the maroon and gold. The Sun Devils return Pac-12 All-Conference pitcher Dallas Escobedo, who earned her stripes as the ace of the staff during the Sun Devils’ 2011 championship run.

Coach Myers has the benefit of having two pitchers capable of shutting down an opponent, as junior Mackenzie Popescue figures to get plenty of work this season as well. Popescue threw three shutouts in 2012, including a no-hitter in the Sun Devils’ victory over Wichita State.

Both Escobedo and Popescue figure to get plenty of work in the Kajikawa Classic, as the Sun Devils are hoping to start the season off on the right note.

The rigors of playing seven games in four days can drain a team both physically and emotionally, and that figures to be the biggest concern heading into the long weekend.

In receiving the preseason No. 4 ranking, the Sun Devils have already earned the respect of the national media and opposing teams. If Arizona State can live up to expectations and run the table in the weekend tournament, the maroon and gold will be off to yet another hot start in their quest for a National Championship.

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