ASU softball strives for consistency in series against Utah
ASU softball has returned from California and looks to ride the momentum from a sweep into its next games at home against Utah.
The Sun Devils (35-6, 9-3 Pac-12) are back at Farrington Stadium under the heat of the Arizona sun, continuing to pound ball after ball in the cages and work on any situation they can think of. This is the routine they’ve done all season which they will continue to do as they look towards the rest of their Pac-12 games.
Consistency is key for coach Craig Nicholson, and he insisted that the focus has to be on where their successes have been in the past in order to not lose focus on the coming games against the Utes (14-16, 3-7 Pac-12).
“We’ve got to make sure we continue to work and we continue to get better. We’ve got to make sure we do the same things that have got us to the point we’re at right now, and I feel like we’re playing pretty well right now,” Nicholson said. “It’s about consistency, and if we continue to work to play at a high level and do it consistently, then we’ll be in pretty good shape.”
The Sun Devils had a lights-out performance at California that included two run-rule victories for ASU.
For the Sun Devils that struggled in their first away conference series, the sweep was powerful, but Nicholson doesn’t want to overcomplicate the game. He said he thinks speculation is best for other teams and is only looking forward to improving on what makes them so intimidating in the Pac-12.
“We’re not trying to send any messages, we’re trying to win games and make sure we’re ready for some of the series coming up, obviously starting with this weekend,” Nicholson said. “We’re not worried about what anybody else thinks of us, we’re worried about what we think of ourselves and how well we can go out and play.”
The Utes have struggled this season and have lost more than half their games, but they are still not a competitor to take lightly, winning two of their three games against an Oregon State team that gave the Sun Devils some difficulty.
Their pitching staff could also pose a challenge to the Sun Devil lineup, and currently the Ute defense leads the Pac-12 in double plays after converting 24 in 30 games. Much like ASU senior pitcher Mackenzie Popescue, the Utah pitchers are a group that likes to throw low in the zone and make teams hit grounders in the infield.
The Sun Devils will have an advantage of their own in the weather they’ve trained in at Farrington Stadium. Instead of rain and wind that the Sun Devils have had to deal with on the road, senior center fielder Alix Johnson thinks the heat in Arizona, which is supposed to reach the mid-90s during the series, gives the Sun Devils an edge.
“The heat is actually in our favor," Johnson said. "When people come here, they’re not really used to the heat. We’re from Arizona. We’ve been practicing in the heat all day long, so if anything, that’s an advantage to us."
However, the temperature is only the second-hottest thing in the stadium next to the Sun Devil bats that have lately been quite intimidating. Each member of the lineup had hits in the last series and ASU seems to be putting the final pieces of the puzzle together in the lineup.
The Sun Devils hit eight home runs in the three-game series against California, and freshman Chelsea Gonzales had seven RBIs in eight at-bats.
Gonzales said she thinks this is because the team is always learning from each other and has really begun to groove together these past weeks.
“There's some times when there’s miscommunications but we’re learning how each other play so we’re still adjusting,” Gonzales said. “It’s definitely all learning experiences, but I think we’re all good teachers to each other. I think everyone’s more relaxed.”
That relaxed attitude is what the Sun Devils want to take into their first game of the series on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Reach the reporter at Nkwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit