All three batting cages were filled and the dugout was packed with helmet-clad, bat-wielding ASU softball players hungry for a pitch, as they worked their first practice following their six games at the Kajikawa Classic.
Some teams might consider this weekend’s 6-0 opening performance an indicator that the offense is solid, but coach Craig Nicholson and his softball club are out swinging against live pitching their first practice on the field after taking Monday off.
Even athletes that played extremely high-caliber softball over the weekend such as senior shortstop Cheyenne Coyle, who hit three home runs and batted .563, are able to recognize that no game is perfect and that work can always be done.
“Everyone has their own struggles or things they want to work with when you go through a series or weekend games,” Coyle said. “Right now we’re just trying to get into the swing of practice more.”
Practice intensity drops slightly when games begin again, especially loaded-up months such as February that have plenty of multi-game weekends.
“The big thing is that we stay healthy through May,” Nicholson said. “You kind of have to manage what you’re doing at practice a little bit knowing that we have to go play five or six more games this weekend.”
The bats never rest at Farrington Stadium, with even defensive drills and base running situations taking place off live bats. Even sophomore relievers Jenna Makis and Alexis Cooper throw with full intensity against teammates.
“They’re not throwing (batting practice), they’re trying to get people out,” Nicholson said.
Practice, however, finished as it always does, with situational drills. A coach tossed batting practice while the team played every position; fielding, running and hitting in numerous situations to keep everyone sharp.
Keeping people sharp and on their game is what practice becomes about at a certain point in the season. There is no longer time to completely reshape negative parts of the game and instead focus stays on smoothing out difficult areas and maintaining the things a team is doing well. Competition at practice drops and avoiding injury becomes of the utmost importance.
But what makes a championship-caliber team is knowing that each athlete is doing what they have to to get better every day. Obvious disappointment or a curse under their breath after a bad throw shows the heart and passion following the Sun Devils into the season.
Some of the players, such as junior catcher Amber Freeman, even stay after practice to get a few more swings in.
“It’s just getting more comfortable in the box,” Freeman said. “We face our pitchers over and over, and it’s different when you face pitchers from somewhere else.”
The practice week is only two days long this week as the Sun Devils took Monday off following their six-game win streak. ASU begins play Thursday against Tennessee.
The Sun Devils face reigning NCAA champions, No. 2 Oklahoma, Friday to open up the Littlewood Classic hosted by ASU.
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