Softball opens regionals against North Dakota State

(Photo by Aaron Lavinsky)

Since the start of the 2011 regular season in January, the ASU softball team has had its eyes set on the Women’s College World Series in June.

With talent and depth at every position, the No. 1 Sun Devils (50-6, 17-4 Pac-10) made the regular season one to remember.

ASU strung together winning streaks of  23 and 12 games en route to the program’s second Pac-10 conference championship.

The Sun Devils’ regular season success paid off as they were announced as the number one postseason seed in Monday night’s ESPN Postseason Selection Show.

ASU’s top seed is the highest in program history.

Despite the increased hype and national attention, it’s business as usual for the Sun Devils on the diamond.

“There’s not going to be any change,” ASU coach Clint Myers said. “We still got some room for growth. We’ve still got some people that need to be a little bit more consistent. Hopefully, if everything stays true we’ve had a different hero every game. That’s what we’re hoping for.”

The next step toward the national championship begins this weekend.

ASU hosts the Tempe Regional, which kicks off Friday night at Farrington Stadium. In addition to ASU, North Dakota State, San Diego State, and Long Beach State will compete in the regional action.

The opportunity to play at home is invaluable for ASU. The Sun Devils are 32-3 at Farrington Stadium in 2011.

“The crowd is behind us 100 percent,” senior centerfielder Lesley Rogers said. “It gets us a lot more confidence. When we are here, we’re supposed to win.”

Up first for the Sun Devils are the Bison (30-25), who took home the Summit championship earlier this season.

Junior Katie Tamayo leads the team with a .363 batting average, while junior outfielder Taylor Mortensen is the Bison frontrunner in home runs with 10 and her 34 RBI.

As a team, the Bison are batting .259 in 55 games this season.

In the circle, NDSU will turn to sophomore Whitney Johnson, who posted a 23-11 record and 2.11 ERA in 40 appearances.

In 209 1/3 innings of work, Johnson has allowed 63 earned runs and 122 walks.

“I know it’s definitely not what you’d see in Pac-10, but you’re going to see a lot more off-speed,” Rogers said. “Their pitchers like to work the corners, and they have really aggressive hitters. They have nothing to lose.”

While the Sun Devils anticipate seeing plenty of off-speed pitching, the Bison will have their hands full in the batter’s box as well.

Freshman pitcher Dallas Escobedo is expected to take to the circle in the first postseason start of her career.

The right-hander has dominated this season with her 27-3 record and 1.40 ERA. In 189 1/3 innings, Escobedo has recorded 250 punch outs.

While this is her first taste of postseason softball, Escobedo plans to simply do what she’s done all year long.

“We’re still going to work hard at practice,” Escobedo said. “But just keeping what we’ve been doing all year I feel like will get us through.”

At the plate, junior shortstop Katelyn Boyd looks to continue her strong season. She enters the weekend with a .431 batting average and 15 long balls.

In the heart of the Sun Devil lineup, senior catcher Kaylyn Castillo and senior third baseman Krista Donnenwirth are hitting .376 and .342 respectively.

The Sun Devils have outscored their opponents 412 to 103 this season, including 78 to 15 in the first inning.

ASU enters the Tempe Regional as the clear favorite. However, the Sun Devils realize any of their opponents would like nothing more than to upset the top ranked team at home.

“After we won the Pac-10 we did lose to Stanford,” senior first baseman Mandy Urfer said. “So having that happen to us, we needed to refocus and let ourselves know that we might be number one, but anyone can beat us any day. We need to make sure that we’re staying focused and telling ourselves that each game is our last game.”

Reach the reporter at greg.dillard@asu.edu