Echoes of the 2008 national title season

In 2008, the ASU softball team had it all.

Dominant pitching, a potent lineup loaded with strong hitters and talented defenders, all the ingredients for a championship caliber team.

Armed with elite talent, the Sun Devils surged to the top of the collegiate softball world. They made history by winning the program’s first Pac-10 title on the last day of the regular season.

One month later, the incredible season continued as the Sun Devils cruised through the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

ASU claimed an 11-0 win against Texas A&M in the series finale to win the program’s first national championship.

Three seasons later, ASU is once again postseason bound.

The 2011 campaign has been a magical one for the Sun Devils. After posting a 50-6 overall record and a 17-4 Pac-10 mark, ASU took home its second Pac-10 conference championship.

ASU received the number one seed in the NCAA postseason as well, and kicked off play in the Tempe Regional this weekend.

With depth and talent at every position, the 2011 team is just as, if not more talented than the 2008 national champions.

Here’s a look at how the 2008 and 2011 Sun Devil squads are distinctly similar.

A Dominant Ace

In 2008, it was southpaw senior Katie Burkhart who was nearly unhittable all season.

Burkhart epitomized the term ‘staff ace’ by etching her name in the ASU pitching record books. She set the single season program record for wins in a season with 41. Burkhart also struck out an incredible 513 batters.

Just as they did in 2008, the Sun Devils boast one of the nation’s premier pitchers.

This year, it’s freshman Dallas Escobedo who burst onto the scene in her first season in Tempe.

In 40 appearances, Escobedo owns a 27-3 record with a 1.40 ERA. The right-hander has 250 strikeouts while opponents are hitting just .170 against her.

Fourteen of her 27 wins have come against Top-25 opponents.

Escobedo’s impressive season earned her Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week honors twice, as well as the Pac-10 Freshmen of the Year award.

Powerful pitching carried the Sun Devils during the 2008 season, and in 2011 they have a pitcher who is just as talented.

“We have a great pitcher,” 2008 ASU national champion catcher and current staff member Renee Welty said. “Any team needs a great pitcher to be able to get the team on the back and get them going where they need to go. So we have Dallas, we had Burkhart back then.”

Powerful offense

Since ASU coach Clint Myers took over in 2006, his teams have featured some of the Pac-10’s most prolific offensive players.

Outfielder Kaitlin Cochran was the driving force in ASU’s 2008 lineup. She smacked 76 hits for a .439 batting average. Cochran also set the school record with 19 doubles.

Infielder Mindy Cowles launched 18 home runs while driving in 60 runs. Outfielder Jackie Vasquez collected 87 hits while batting .418.

Then-freshman third baseman Krista Donnenwirth collected 74 RBI to set a team record.

The 2011 version is capable of scoring early and often. In 56 games, ASU has run ruled its opponents 21 times.

It all starts with junior shortstop Katelyn Boyd in the leadoff spot.

Boyd hit .431 during the regular season with 15 home runs, 14 doubles, and 54 RBI.

Senior catcher Kaylyn Castillo owns a .376 batting average along with 33 RBI.

The potent lineup doesn’t stop there.

Junior right fielder Annie Lockwood leads the team with 57 RBI. Junior left fielder Talor Haro and senior center fielder Lesley Rogers are hitting .386 and .343 respectively.

Behind their dominant pitching, ASU is able to plate runs in bunches.

Leadership and Chemistry

Leadership is key to any team’s success. Like the 2008 team, this year’s team has a formidable group of senior leaders.

Donnenwirth, first baseman Mandy Urfer, center fielder Lesley Rogers, and Castillo are all senior starters.

Among those starters are three players who were fixtures in the 2008-starting lineup. Donnenwirth, Rogers, and Urfer all helped ASU to its national championship win.

“They were freshmen then, and you hope that their leadership will be able to go and get everybody else to the point of understanding what the value of experience is,” Myers said. “Donnenwirth, Rogers and Urfer all had significant contributions in that college world series win.”

While leadership is vital, team chemistry also plays a role throughout the duration of a long season.

“It’s a great mix,” Welty said. “The seniors, we have great leadership. In 2008, we had great leadership then to. The two go well together, and the camaraderie that these girls have is far better than what we had in 2008.”

Whether ASU can record similar results in the postseason remains to be seen. But the 2011 Sun Devils possess many of the same strengths and talents that brought home a trophy three seasons ago.