ASU softball will have its first real test this weekend at the Littlewood Classic when it faces their first ranked opponent and 2013 NCAA champion, Oklahoma.
The Sooners (3-2) have had a shaky start to the season after losing two games over the weekend to Kentucky and Cal State Fullerton, but like the Sun Devils (6-0), they have a history of talent that cannot be dismissed, and reigning NCAA champs is hard to ignore.
What the Sun Devils do especially well, however, is just that; ignore the big game coming up. Coach Craig Nicholson embodies the mentality of taking everything one day at a time, and even with a big threat coming up over the weekend, the most dangerous team is the team you’re facing that day.
“First and foremost, we have to worry about us and we have to worry about Thursday night,” Nicholson said. “Early on in the year especially, you have to focus on what you’re doing and not so much what your opponents are going to do.”
Unfortunate for the Sooners are the losses of graduated pitchers Keilani Ricketts and Michelle Gascoigne, who together won 54 of the team’s 57 games last season. Despite this loss of talent, Oklahoma still ranked second in the 2013 coaches’ preseason poll, but a weak pitching staff could be dangerous against an offense like the Sun Devils’.
An opportunity to take down last year’s champions, prove the talent under a new head coach, and get a powerhouse team while it is down might be tantalizing to most teams, but players like senior shortstop Cheyenne Coyle follow suit with Nicholson’s mentality.
“We haven’t so much talked about them so much as the first game, because that’s part of our key values,” Coyle said. “(It) is process over outcome, and the first part of the process is Tennessee State.”
The Sun Devils take on Tigers (1-3) on Thursday before entering another four-game tournament in the Littlewood Classic with double headers against Oklahoma and Delaware State on Friday and Illinois State (1-3) and Southern Illinois Edwardsville (1-3) on Saturday.
There is a chance to see backup sophomore pitchers Jenna Makis and Alexis Cooper over the weekend but Nicholson said he won’t be finalizing Thursday’s plan until Wednesday, and Oklahoma will not be done until before the game Thursday.
The early parts of the season are difficult to plan, however, and a lot of detailed film is not available, making it more difficult to research teams.
“Later in the year when you’re playing people that you know you can truly do some thorough, deep scouting reports, that’s a little different story,” Nicholson said. “When we’re playing Pac-12 schools that’s a little different in preparation than what we’re doing now with these teams.”
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