Video by Nolan Kwit | Sports Reporter
It’s the last regular season series for ASU softball, and it should be an exciting one, with second-ranked UCLA coming to the Sun Devils’ (43-8-1, 14-5-1 Pac-12) home field beginning Thursday.
The Bruins (46-5, 17-4 Pac-12) will be no easy defeat, as they’ve rocked the Pac-12 with a combination of strong pitching and a power-packed offensive unit that have earned their place in the rankings and firmly planted themselves in front of the Sun Devils since the beginning of conference play.
ASU coach Craig Nicholson said the Bruins differ from the top-ranked Oregon team the Sun Devils faced in their previous series. In this series, it’s the similarities, not the differences, which the Sun Devils need to focus on to take down their final regular season challenger.
“We’re similar in terms of our offensive lineup because they’ve got some punch one through nine,” Nicholson said. “(They) can kind of make things happen at the bottom of their order as well as the top and middle.”
The Bruins will be swinging away often and don’t have much in their arsenal in terms of slap hitting and bunting for hits. Instead, they had a commanding presence at the plate with three players boasting more than 10 home runs this season and a team batting average of .338.
Nicholson said that pitchers always have to be cautious with the Bruins and can’t relax after retiring the fifth and sixth batters in the lineup. Later batters do not mean a drop in talent, and “those kids at the bottom can really do some damage at the bottom and hurt you.”
It’s not too late for the Bruins to make a final series burst to take the Pac-12 champion honor away from the Ducks (47-6-1, 18-2-1), and they will be playing with everything they have to make that dream as probable as possible.
As for Sun Devil players like senior shortstop Cheyenne Coyle, they know batting wasn’t the only thing that got UCLA this far.
“They’re all a really good pitching staff,” Coyle said. “All have different qualities or pitches that they throw, very solid.”
Solid is an accurate way to describe them, but neither Bruins pitcher puts up huge strikeouts numbers like ASU’s senior pitcher Dallas Escobedo, who has gathered nearly 293 on the season, only 33 less than the combined effort from the two Bruins starters.
While they may not be strikeout leaders, they almost always get their job done.The two Bruins starters, junior Ally Carda and senior Jessica Hall, have a combined ERA of fewer than two per game while only taking a combined five losses on the season.
The Sun Devils may be out of the running to be named Pac-12 champions, but with that goal erased, they’re free to solely think about hosting, getting the necessary wins from UCLA and looking toward the postseason.
The Sun Devils did not lose any confidence. Coyle said they were looking to take the sweep, and even ASU’s youngest starter, sophomore second baseman Nikki Girard, has no fear looking into the future.
“I played a little bit in postseason last year so it’s not something new,” Girard said. “It’s not like nervousness really anymore.”
The Sun Devils begin their first game against the Bruins Thursday at Farrington Stadium at 7 p.m.
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