The lineup for ASU softball looked different than usual in its game against Seton Hall Friday night as coach Craig Nicholson gave three rookie members of the team a chance to take the field.
Sophomore pitcher Alexis Cooper worked in the circle for the Sun Devils (13-0) while freshman catcher Sashel Palacios caught behind the plate for Cooper’s first win of the season, a 12-1 bloodbath against the Pirates (3-5) that ended with a fifth inning run-rule call.
“I was really happy that I could back her up the entire game,” Palacios said. “Our defense made some great plays so it was really easier for her to go out there and throw her stuff and have me be there for support.”
This is Cooper’s second start on the year, with her first one against Tennessee State when she got pulled out in the second inning after struggling to find the strike zone. Today she found her zone and allowed only one hit on the night. Cooper’s pitching style is not one of power, but she instead relies heavily on groundballs and solid defensive work from everyone around her, even when the people behind her aren’t the usual veterans.
“Everyone gets an opportunity and they’re going to capitalize on it,” Cooper said. “Even if they’re not a normal starter, they’re a starter tonight and I have confidence.”
Rookie sophomore right fielder Jennifer Soria got her second start of the season in right field while freshman Chelsea Gonzales, whose mostly pinched-hit this season, got her chance at second base. All the rookies played solid ball, contributing in one facet or another, but the veterans still had their time to show the youngsters how it’s done.
The highlight play of the game came in the second inning when senior centerfielder Alix Johnson sprinted to shallow center and sacrificed her body for a diving catch to end the inning. Plays like this and the back-to-back homeruns from senior shortstop Cheyenne Coyle and Johnson in the fourth are what leaders do for teams.
“You want your young players to learn from the older ones,” Nicholson said. “It’s not just about the results that they get but more about how they go about their business every day and how they prepare to play.”
Veteran inspiration is huge for a team and can motivate great results, like Gonzales’ grand slam in the fourth that followed Coyle and Johnson’s homeruns to make it look like a homerun derby out at Farrington Stadium.
The Sun Devils have talent deep in their lineup and have numerous players that can make plays when they need to. Nicholson says this is crucial if a player gets an injury or anything happens late in the season when every game counts.
The Sun Devils are a goldmine of talent and the deeper into the lineup you look the more treasure you’re going to find. Each appearance from the rookies created results and the scoreboard truly says everything needed about the talent of the younger athletes.
They are still young though and will be learning from the veterans every step of the way. After seeing the results today there can be no doubt that the Sun Devil ballclub will play well for years to come as they continue to work and get their first tastes of collegiate ball out on the field.
“It’s exciting, it’s nerve wracking, I still get that feeling in my stomach every game,” Palacios said. “Its really exciting and it’s also refreshing to have the upperclassmen push you through the games.”
Reach the reporter at Nkwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit