ASU softball set to square off vs. rival UA in toughest series of season to date

It’s the series everyone’s been waiting for.

The competition at Farrington Stadium will be at a season-high from March 28 to March 30 as the ASU softball team takes on in-state rival UA in a three-game series.

The Sun Devils (30-5, 4-2 Pac-12) are coming off a dramatic weekend against Stanford that tested every aspect of coach Craig Nicholson and his players, and now they must see if they can take the positive momentum into games against a more talented Wildcat club (28-6, 3-3 Pac-12) that is coming off a sweep of its own.

 

 

Both teams had games Monday, creating a short week with only two practices before the opener Friday afternoon.

Nicholson said he thinks this could be a good thing, because both teams are dealing with the same circumstance, and there is no worry of lethargy setting in.

“Obviously, when you’re playing a rivalry series, you don’t have to worry about where your focus is going to be at,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson contended that they are already as prepared as they can be for the coming games and that “this time of year, the short week shouldn’t have that much of an impact.”

The Wildcats are coming in hot after a three-game sweep against Oregon State, with all three victories coming in five innings via run rule. The offense never gave the Beavers (11-17, 2-4 Pac-12) a chance to revive themselves as the Wildcats outscored the Beavers 36-2 in the series.

The team that the Wildcats devastated so convincingly was the same team that the Sun Devils struggled with in their Pac-12 opening series, losing two of their three games to Oregon State.

What the two teams do have in common is a bolstering offense that can take an opponent out of the game just as it begins. With the end of the Oregon State series, the Wildcats earned their 16th run-rule victory of the season, setting a season high only halfway through the year.

There is no doubt that they are a high-scoring team, but Nicholson said that the Stanford weekend series helped his players prepare for the Wildcats. Both Stanford and UA have similar hitters on offense, each with a handful of slap-hitting left-handers. Seeing Stanford will help the defense make adjustments when the time comes against the Wildcats.

Nicholson and his players have still clearly been paying close attention to their rivals over the season and team knowledge is just as important as physical preparation.

“The way the series has gone in the last years is that it’s been high-scoring games,” Nicholson said. “I think with them having a bunch of pitchers that are upperclassmen and us having a bunch of pitchers that are upperclassmen, the thing in this series is that the hitters know what to expect on both sides.”

Nicholson said “there really (are) no unknowns in this weekend,” and it’s simply going to come down to matchups.

As important to the fans and players as this game is, Nicholson still has to keep his coaching hat on with a sturdy vision of why this series is truly important.

“I think it’s important that you want to win this series, because you want to keep yourself in the position to compete for a Pac-12 championship,” Nicholson said. “We have to make sure that we don’t overhype the series, even though we all know it’s important.”

Nicholson has not yet made the selection of the starting pitcher and said he needs to do the final bits of research before he can make any decisions coming into the game.

The first game of the series is Friday at 5 p.m. at Farrington Stadium.

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