ASU softball exceeded expectations last season under first year head coach Trisha Ford. This season, the Sun Devils are hoping to take a step forward.
Entering the 2017 season, Arizona State was entering their third coach in four years as Trisha Ford was taking over a program that wasn’t living up to its high standards.
The Sun Devils were picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 on the eve last season. Arizona State bested that finishing the season 31-21 and sixth in the Pac-12 earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
After being placed in the Oxford Regional with SEC Tournament Champions Ole Miss, North Carolina and Southern Illinois, the Sun Devils went 1-2 ending their season.
Rejuvenated and motivated to go further, the Sun Devils enter the 2018 season with heightened expectations as they were picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12 preseason poll and No. 19 in the preseason ESPN/USA Softball preseason poll.
Arizona State brings back their entire pitching staff in seniors Breanna Macha and Dale Ryndak and sophomores Alyssa Loza and Giselle Juarez.
Macha was the team’s most reliable pitcher last season sporting a 13-8 record and a 2.23 ERA in 28 appearances last season.
Ryndak was the Sun Devils’ No. 2 pitcher throwing 94.2 innings last season earning an 8-5 record and a 2.37 ERA.
Loza put in a lot of innings for Arizona State making 16 starts (second most on the team) pitching her way to a 2.79 ERA and a 6-7 record.
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Juarez pitched the fewest innings on the team (36) making 10 appearances going 4-2 and a 1.36 ERA as she’s slated to have a bigger role this season.
The entire pitching staff returning is a huge advantage for the Sun Devils as Arizona State finished third last season in the Pac-12 in team ERA (2.32) only behind powerhouses Oregon and Arizona.
Shifting to the infield, Arizona State will undergo some changes with arguably their two best hitters from last season, catcher Sashel Palacious and shortstop Chelsea Gonzales, graduated.
Catcher is a position to watch for Arizona State with Fresno State transfer Maddi Hackbarth and freshman Rylee Maston duking it out for the position.
Whoever the catcher is, it will be difficult to replace Palacios’ production (10 home runs and 40 RBIs).
Taylor Becerra returns at third base after making the All-Pac-12 second team last season with a .331 batting average.
Randi Farricker, who got some playing time as a designated player last season, featured some power with four home runs and could be destined to start at first base.
Marisa Stankiewicz is also likely be a starter on the infield for Ford finishing last season with five home runs and 17 RBIs last season.
Other infielders looking to make an impact and crack the starting lineup is Bella Loomis, Denae Chatman, Danielle Gibson and Texas transfer Jade Gortarez.
Heading out to the outfield, which features five players who contributed last season in Skylar McCarty, Fa Leilua, Brianna “Breezy” Wise, Nichole Chilson and Brynley Steele.
Outfield features the most depth on the roster. If the infield can fill the voids left by Palacios and Gonzales, the Sun Devils should improve offensively after finishing sixth in the Pac-12 in runs scored and seventh in batting average.
The Sun Devils face a tough schedule beginning Thursday with the Kajikawa Classic against No. 11 Tennessee and Notre Dame.
Beginning Feb. 22, the Sun Devils will travel to Palm Springs, California for the Mary Nutter Classic where they’ll face Mississippi State and the reigning national champions No. 1 Oklahoma.
Arizona State will then host No. 18 Minnesota for a three game series March 9 and 11 before beginning Pac-12 play March 17.
Last season, the Conference of Champions got eight teams into the NCAA Tournament with the Sun Devils set to host No. 3 Oregon, No. 5 Washington, No. 7 Arizona and Stanford this season.
Arizona State will head on the road to face No. 4 UCLA, No. 16 Utah, California and Oregon State.
The Sun Devils will have the opportunity, in one of the best conferences in the nation, to build a strong resume by picking up some signature wins with the goal of hosting a regional and making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.