ASU softball faces stiff competition, reunion game for coach Craig Nicholson in Louisville Slugger Invitational

The Louisville Slugger Invitational is approaching, and ASU softball is striving to keep its perfect season alive as competition rises and it looks forward to playing coach Craig Nicholson’s previous team, Ball State.

The Invitational marks the end to a series of tournaments that opened the season at home for the Sun Devils, as the schedule fills with more difficult play with conference teams on the horizon.

This is not to say that the teams they’ve played have been easy, but at this point in the season, veterans like senior shortstop Cheyenne Coyle understand what it takes to keep a team together.

 

 

“It’s important that you don’t backtrack, and it happens a lot when we play certain teams and definitely different levels of play,” Coyle said. “We’re trying to keep it consistent and keep everyone on the same page.”

One way to get to that page is to work on what has been probably the biggest collective problem on the team this year: defense. At the Diamond Devil Invitational, the Sun Devils committed seven errors, which hardly inhibited their victories, but it’s not something Nicholson can ignore.

“We all know that we need to play better defense; it’s not a secret,” Nicholson said. “Some of the errors we’ve made have been kind of flukey things, but they add up.”

Nicholson talked with players after practice again about cleaning up the defense and making sure to not “give teams four outs in an inning.”

ASU has been lucky that teams have not done more damage when the errors occurred but there’s a good chance teams will begin to capitalize on mistakes if they aren’t fixed.

Nicholson did explain last week that some errors might come from moving players around the field as he works to find a proper lineup, but that won’t stop him from experimenting.

Conference play is not far away, and though they are “obviously getting to a point in the season where we kind of have to come up with a lineup,” there is still time to use different players, Nicholson said.

Nicholson has not set any specific changes to the lineup coming into the weekend, though sophomore pitcher Alexis Cooper is sure to be in the circle again after getting her first win of the season at the Diamond Devil Invitational.

What is guaranteed is a step up in pitching, especially if the Sun Devils face Minnesota senior pitcher Sara Moulton, who entered this year as the school record holder for shutouts.

Nicholson also mentioned South Carolina’s strong staff, carrying a 13-2 record and a strong defensive side, but what will be the highlight of the weekend will be Nicholson’s reunion match against his old players with the Ball State Cardinals.

“It’s going to be tough. I recruited all those kids, so I care about those kids and their families and obviously, I care about our ball club here, so there’s really no good place to be in that ballgame,” Nicholson said. “It’s one of those where if it’s close you’re not really happy, but if you blow it out, you’re not really happy either.”

The emotional game will take place Sunday afternoon at Alberta B. Farrington Softball Stadium to end the weekend for the Sun Devils, and although Nicholson may feel guilty if he beats his old team, he did make one thing clear.

“As long as we go out and play well, I’ll get over it,” he said.

Reach the reporter at Nkwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit