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Versatility and speed are key for No. 16 ASU softball

The ASU softball team is off to a 13-2 start with a deep roster

Danielle Gibson Runs to First Base

ASU freshman infielder Danielle Gibson (41) runs to first base during a game against Indiana State University at the Alberta B. Farrington Softball Stadium in Tempe, Arizona, on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018.

Last year, the No. 16 ASU softball program had seven players who started 50 games or more. With a core group of players, the Sun Devils didn’t have too many drastic changes with their starting lineup.

However, with a plethora of new talent this season, ASU has a new dynamic. With four transfers and a variety of freshmen who are already receiving playing time, the Sun Devils look like one of the deepest teams within the Pac-12 Conference.

“I think we can hurt you from top to bottom," ASU head coach Trisha Ford said. "I think maybe in years past, once you got through a certain number of the lineup ... we had to get back up to the top. I think this year ... we have a combination of speed throughout (the lineup).”

Last year, ASU junior third baseman Taylor Becerra and junior outfielder Skylar McCarty were responsible for a large part of the speed in the Sun Devil lineup.

As sophomores, Becerra and McCarty were two left-handed slap-hitters in a starting lineup full of right-handed hitters.

Now in Ford’s second season at the helm, she feels that she has the right players to play her brand of softball.

With the addition of three Fresno State transfers and sophomore Texas transfer Jade Gortarez, the Sun Devils have constructed a well-balanced attack that has gotten them off to a 13-2 start.

After transferring from Fresno, junior outfielder Morgan Howe and sophomore outfielder Kindra Hackbarth have grabbed the reins as two of ASU’s starting position players, with Howe patrolling center field while Hackbarth has been stationed in right field.

“As we (ASU) kind of talked about last year, a little bit of what does my program look like ... Morgan Howe is a great example of it,” Ford said. “We are very athletic. We can attack you in a multitude of ways.” 

Last year, McCarty started every game in center field for the Sun Devils, committing just one error and assisting on eight putouts from the outfield while hitting .303 at the plate.

However, this year, the junior from Peoria has shifted to a corner outfield position with the addition of Howe, playing left field along with senior outfielder Nicole Chilson.

Together, the four left-handed hitters have combined to create a loaded group of weapons in the outfield who all bring something different to the table. 

“We want athleticism. Morgan, we recruited her as a center fielder,” Ford said. “She played right field for us at Fresno, and now we have moved her back to center field. And her, Kindra and Skylar can all play any one of those positions. Versatility is huge.”

While the outfield is loaded with talent, the firepower does not stop there for the Sun Devils with a budding freshman class.

So far this season, freshmen infielders Denae Chatman, Bella Loomis and Danielle Gibson have all received significant amounts of playing time in non-conference play.

Over the weekend in the Mary Nutter Classic in Cathedral City, Calif., Gibson blasted her fourth home run of the season while Loomis came up with a variety of big hits when her name was penciled into the starting lineup.

“We have Bella (Loomis) working up the middle,” Gortarez said earlier this season. “She’s going to have a great year when she gets her opportunities.”

Aside from the freshmen, ASU redshirt senior infielder Marisa Stankiewicz shifted from her normal position at second base to play first base on Sunday afternoon, while Loomis played up the middle at second base. 

Loomis also played third base in the Mary Nutter Classic serving as an ultimate utility player for the Sun Devils.

With so many versatile players who have shifted all over the diamond, the rest of the season should be enticing for a team that might even have their own competitions from position-to-position in practice.

Regardless of who starts or who plays in what position, the team has just one goal in mind in an elite Pac-12 conference.

“I came here (to ASU) to win a national championship,” Howe said. “I am just going to keep doing my part and playing my role the way that I can, and I trust that everyone else is going to do the same and be there when they need to be, and support whoever is out there when they are out there.”

Up next, ASU will host Coastal Carolina this Friday, Mar. 2 at 7 p.m. MST from Farrington Stadium.

“One of the great things about our team is they are very welcoming and they want to win,” Ford said. “Our level of play at practice has increased and there is competition in spots, and that’s only going to make us better.”

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