Ranked conference play on horizon for ASU softball

Senior outfielder Alix Johnson throws a fly ball back to her teammates during the Louisville Slugger Invitational against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Farrington Stadium on Sunday, March 2. ASU lost 2-3. (Photo by Becca Smouse)

Senior outfielder Alix Johnson throws a fly ball back to her teammates during the Louisville Slugger Invitational against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Farrington Stadium on Sunday, March 2. ASU lost 2-3. (Photo by Becca Smouse)

It’s the time of year for the ASU softball team that all its practices and games have been leading to, the time to see its competitors and
rivals in its own conference, and the time to have its first Pac-12 game on
its home turf.

 

The Sun Devils (27-5, 1-2 Pac-12) will be taking on No. 23 Stanford in their second Pac-12 series of the season after losing two of three in their first to Oregon State.

The Sun Devils struggled in their Pac-12 debut, but players like senior right fielder Bailey Wigness are ready for their home conference opener.

 

 

“This series is huge for us. We need to get back on the right track and continue to do the things that we’ve been doing,” Wigness said. “We’ve just got to get after it, and we’re excited to be back home and playing in front of our home crowd.”

The Cardinal (23-8, 1-2 Pac-12) are not only a conference competitor but are also ranked 23rd, despite dropping two games of their own in their Pac-12 opener against unranked California at home.

Now the Cardinal will leave home, come to Tempe and try to get their first win against a ranked team, something that has been a problem for them after dropping games to LSU, Baylor and Tennessee earlier in the season.

Coach Craig Nicholson has been adamant that rankings mean nothing to teams, and it’s all just speculation, but the Sun Devils’ No. 8 ranking may be enough for Stanford to notice, despite dropping from fifth after a tough weekend in Oregon.

“To me, this weekend is about us,” Nicholson said. “Can we come out here and get over what happened last weekend and be the team we should be?”

Both teams struggled in their conference openers, losing two out of three games against teams that they were expected to beat soundly.

While looking at the scorecards of each team’s weekend, it would seem they played similarly: one game with monstrous offensive production to overwhelm their opponent, and two games that they just couldn’t pull together when they needed.

There are, however, noticeable differences in how the teams played over the weekend.

Both teams struggled in the same territory: gaining runs in crucial situations. The Sun Devils struggled all weekend with runners in scoring position, as did the Cardinal.

The difference is that the Sun Devils were chasing a small dividend kept by strong defense and pitching, while the Cardinal were mostly chasing for offensive superiority.

The Sun Devils’ pitching has been their key to keeping games alive and opponent scores low. Senior starters Dallas Escobedo and Mackenzie Popescue have ERAs of 0.98 and 1.07, respectively.

The Cardinal allowed double-digit runs in two games over the weekend, and even though only one of those led to a loss, the large scoring shows a weakness not presented by the Sun Devils.

Regardless, Cardinal freshman right-hander Madi Schreyer boasts a 1.65 ERA and could still present difficulties for the Sun Devils’ recently sluggish offensive numbers.

Both teams will be thirsting for winning records in conference play and will not be taking each other lightly. There is an undeniable intensity that is raised as the season continues that reflects in the attitude of senior center fielder Alix Johnson.

“Pac-12 is a whole different ballgame, so each game is going to be important,” Johnson said. “Each pitcher we face is going to be extremely difficult, so we’re prepared to play our best softball at home, because I know they’re coming to try and knock us off of our high horse.”

The first game begins Saturday at 7 p.m. at Farrington Stadium.

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