In a new era of ASU softball, Long Beach State transfer Cielo Meza will attempt to take charge of the Sun Devils’ new-look pitching staff.
A year ago, pitching was vital in getting Arizona State to the Women’s College World Series. Giselle “G” Juarez and Breanna Macha were both dominant, regularly shutting down quality opponents on the road to Oklahoma City.
But now, both ends of that dominant pairing have departed, and the Sun Devils don’t return one pitcher from the 2018 squad. It’s up to the newcomers in the circle to revamp the staff.
Enter Cielo Meza.
A Long Beach State transfer, Meza is yet to play a game sporting maroon and gold, but she is no stranger to Alberta B. Farrington Softball Stadium. She pitched in the opening game of the 2018 Tempe Regional against Ole Miss. That’s when she fell in love with ASU softball.
“We had ASU fans come watch Long Beach vs. Ole Miss, so that was pretty awesome,” Meza said. “I had never seen that before at Long Beach.
“It’s awesome just being here. It’s a totally different stage.”
Prior to transferring, Meza was a catalyst for LBSU in her two full seasons. An injury ended her 2016 season, but a year later, Meza stood out and won Big West Freshman Pitcher of the Year. Her list of accolades has expanded since.
In 2018, Meza posted a 22-5 record and a 1.46 ERA in 34 appearances. The season was outstanding enough for Meza to earn Big West Pitcher of the Year and first-team All-Big West honors as a redshirt sophomore.
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Now a veteran player at a Pac-12 program, Meza acknowledged the value of her three seasons in Long Beach.
“Having those three years under my belt has helped me buckle down and know that I can help lead the way,” Meza said. “Just trusting my stuff and building on what I did at Long Beach.”
Though confident in her abilities and leadership, Meza understands the significance of Juarez’s and Macha’s departures. The duo combined for 42 wins, and Juarez’s 1.22 ERA was among the nation’s best.
But Meza said certain aspects of her game should allow her to dominate from the jump.
“I think my spin is the biggest asset I have,” Meza said. “I’m going to work to make that ball dance and keep hitters off balance.
“I’m really good with my instinct on the mound, and that’s what sets me apart.”
Now nine months since she last pitched in a game setting, Meza awaits her first regular-season action in a Sun Devil uniform. If the offseason was any indication, it should be a smooth transition, according to ASU coach Trisha Ford.
“C had a phenomenal fall,” Ford said. “The last couple of weeks has really felt better than ever. She’s ready to take this program to where we expect it to go.”
Without any returners, this staff will lean on Meza — its most-experienced constituent. Ford is certain that Meza is ready to command this young crop of pitchers.
“She’s ready to take this program to where we expect it to go,” Ford said. “She embraces it; she enjoys the challenge.”
The 2019 season has yet to begin, but Meza is already gaining notoriety — both in Tempe and in the national softball landscape. In late January, Meza was named one of 50 players on the 2019 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year watch list.
This provided Meza with a snapshot of what she can achieve in the desert; her prowess in the circle can solidify ASU’s spot on the national softball map.
“I definitely think it’s a motivator,” Meza said. “(It) puts a little chip on my shoulder just like thinking that I have 49 other girls to compete against.
“I think that I am going to lead this team the way I need to.”
Not only does Meza hope to compete for the Player of the Year title, she dreams of achieving All-American status. While she has two remaining years of eligibility, Meza is confident she can reach that prestige as a redshirt junior.
“I think I can earn that through my hard work and having Coach Ford behind me,” Meza said. “All the work I put in, I think I deserve that.
Being an ace in the Pac-12 is no easy stunt. Some of the nation’s best hitters reside in the “Conference of Champions,” creating an ordeal for opposing pitchers. But if Meza’s confidence is any indication, 2019 should be a memorable season for the LBSU transfer.
“I’m definitely going to prove myself this year,” Meza said.
All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.