After competing for nearly half a season in various tournaments, the Sun Devil softball team has shifted gears and moved into PAC-12 play.
Arizona State faces off against highly touted conference opponents for the better part of two months before chasing the ultimate goal of winning the Women’s College World Series in May.
This weekend, the Sun Devils host the No. 23 Oregon State Beavers in their first conference home stand of the season.
Oregon State visited Tempe earlier this year for the Kajikawa Classic, but they did not compete against ASU in that tournament.
The Beavers hold an impressive record of 23-6 and reeled off 12 consecutive wins earlier this season.
However, they face a tough task in the No. 2 Sun Devils who have a 31-3 mark and a bevy of home run hitters throughout the lineup.
Furthermore, Arizona State has been nearly unbeatable at home, posting a 25-1 mark at Farrington Stadium this season.
For the Beavers to have a chance at winning the series, starting pitcher Marina Demore will have to find a way to outduel Sun Devils ace Dallas Escobedo. Both are 16-3 on the season, and sport earned run averages close to 2.00.
A series victory for Oregon State could catapult the Beavers up the rankings, but if the Sun Devil offense comes to life, there’s no doubt Arizona State will make that task significantly tougher.
What to Watch For:
1. Home Runs
Both Arizona State and Oregon State have plenty of power and Farrington Stadium has been kind to hitters this season. The Sun Devils have knocked 53 home runs this season while the Beavers total 36.
Cheyenne Coyle, Alix Johnson and Amber Freeman all have the ability to go deep for the Sun Devils, but the Beavers have surrendered just 11 home runs all season.
Freshman Natalie Hampton paces the Beavers with 10 home runs, and she’ll have a chance to better that stat against Dallas Escobedo, who has given up 19 home runs already this season.
2. The No. 2 Starters
Dallas Escobedo and Marina Demore may have the top spot in their respective rotations locked up, but both teams will need to rely on their No. 2 starter to try to steal a game this weekend.
The Sun Devils have a decided edge, as Mackenzie Popescue has been sensational this season. Her 14-0 record and 1.00 ERA have proved she is more than capable to pick up the slack when Escobedo takes a rest. On Sunday against UCLA, Popescue relieved Escobedo and picked up her first career save in the rubber match with the Bruins.
For the Beavers, Tina Andreana appears to be the second option for coach Laura Berg. Andreana owns a 4-1 record in nine starts this season, but her 3.52 ERA suggests that the Sun Devils have a real opportunity to put up runs in the game she pitches.
3. Lights, Camera, Action
With the Easter holiday coming on Sunday, the teams will play on Thursday, Friday and Saturday instead of a typical Friday, Saturday and Sunday series.
Both Arizona State and Oregon State competed on short rest in tournaments earlier this season, so losing a day of preparation likely won’t hurt either team.
Saturday’s game will be broadcast on the PAC-12 Network and the game will start at 2 p.m. Neither team has played a televised game this season, and the media timeouts will take adjustment.
Dallas Escobedo and Marina Demore both work with a quick pace on the mound, so the time in between innings may affect the pitchers’ mentality.