After an unsatisfactory fall sports season left ASU fans wanting something better, the start of the No. 1 softball team’s season is here at last.
The reigning national champions are set to take the field seven times from Thursday to Sunday in the Kajikawa Classic.
Despite the high expectations surrounding this year’s team, sophomore pitcher Dallas Escobedo shrugged off any signs of trepidation and said she’s more excited than nervous.
ASU’s biggest concern will be breaking in the 10 newcomers to this year’s squad. While there is talent emanating from the seven freshmen and three transfers, the anticipation of how they will compete when it counts fills Farrington Stadium during practice.
“This is the first time these kids have played together, so we are looking for some continuity,” coach Clint Myers said. “They have been practicing together, but now you’ve got to carry that practice into the game.
“We are just looking to carry through what we have been doing the last four weeks.”
At least once per pitch, all eyes will be on freshman Amber Freeman as she has the toughest assignment of the newcomers. She will attempt to fill former All-Conference catcher Kaylyn Castillo’s cleats.
A lot will be taken from the Mater Dei High School prospect’s debut, but Freeman is confident she is ready to step in and face stiff competition.
Comparing the teams on the slate this weekend to the ones ASU will face in conference play is deceiving.
Perennial SEC powerhouse No. 9 Tennessee is the only team that can stand with ASU on name recognition alone, but Texas State is picked to repeat as Southland Conference champions, and Cal Poly returns after taking the Sun Devils to extra innings in 2011.
“Any team, at any time, can beat somebody else,” Myers said. “So you can’t look past one to the next. That’s the big thing we are trying to get across, that every single game is the most important game you are going to play.”
While most people familiar with sports understand Myers’ “Any Given Sunday” type speech, ASU softball must be confident heading into their first two days of competition.
With Western Michigan, San Jose State, McNeese State and Northwestern up first on the schedule, the Sun Devils expect to finish 4-0 after two days.
ASU only had to play five innings against WMU, winning 17-0 last year in the Kajikawa Classic. The team also ended last year’s tournament by defeating SJSU 13–4.
Still, Escobedo has the same mindset as her coach, pointing out that the team has a long way to go before the Women’s College World Series.
“Each practice is based on who we are going to be playing,” Escobedo said. “(We work on) really having our focus on that team because we can’t play the next two until we get past that one.”
Myers breaks everything down into thirds: non-conference tournaments, conference play and the postseason.
“These first 30 games are going to get us ready for the Pac-12,” Myers said. “Then, the Pac-12 will get us ready for the postseason, and by that time, you hope you’re playing your best softball.”
Both the Texas State and Tennessee games on Saturday will be streamed online at foxsportsarizona.com.
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