Opinion: Underclassmen are leading ASU softball to victory

Sophomores and freshmen are launching ASU softball into higher rankings

ASU softball is a young team, but that hasn't held them back in the slightest. 

The team continues to make headlines as it knocks out highly-ranked competition. A 4-0 sweep over No. 20 UC Berkeley last weekend came just days after the stunning 2-1 series victory against the No. 1 ranked University of Washington. The team then earned its highest NCAA ranking in four years at No. 8, a four spot jump from last week's ranking.

The driving force behind these conquests? Underclassmen.

Sophomore pitcher Giselle "G" Juarez has received her third consecutive Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week accolade. The spotlight stretches further than the conference, however. This week, Juarez garnered national attention, earning both NFCA and USA Softball Division I National Pitcher of the Week honors as well. 

Juarez rightfully deserves each award she's received. She threw a career-high 17 strikeouts at Friday's shutout against Cal. Before that, she put away 17 strikeouts in a single game against Washington.

Head coach Trisha Ford told TheSunDevils.com that Juarez is a "special player who is very humble, hard working and an even better person. It's always nice to see those types of players rewarded for their efforts."

"It’s ridiculous what she's doing right now," said Andrew Bell, softball reporter for The State Press.  "If she has a game where she doesn't have more than five strikeouts to start, it's almost surprising. She's that good."  

Juarez's play has been essential to ASU's success this year. 

"When I think it's all said and done, after she's done here at ASU, she's going to be one of, if not the, best pitchers in ASU history," Bell said. "She's been that good – her pitches are that good."

For reference, Juarez is just 42 strikeouts behind Erica Beach, who ranks 17th in all-time strikeouts in ASU history — and she's only a sophomore.

"I think a big part of (Juarez's success) is her catcher, Maddi Hackbarth, who she's worked with," Bell said. "They've really gelled together and have good chemistry. They're really on the same page right now, and I think when you're locked in with your catcher like that, the sky's the limit. People are seeing how good she really is. She's been incredible."

The thunder to Juarez's lightning comes in the form of 6-foot freshman first baseman Danielle Gibson.

Gibson is this week's Pac-12 Freshman of the Week after being instrumental in ASU's series win over both Washington and Cal with four games played, five hits, three RBIs, and a .385 batting average for the week. Her performance was not atypical. Sitting at a .413 batting average for the season, Gibson leads the team. 

Gibson's performance has been nothing short of impressive and has led the Sun Devil's offense this season.

"I think Danielle Gibson is definitely going to be up for Freshman of the Year, and I believe for First-Team Pac-12," Bell said. "She's a force. Cal, last weekend, did not want to pitch to her at all. She got intentionally walked a couple times, and to have that respect as a freshman is really impressive." 

What is exciting about the success of these young players so early on is that they will improve in the coming years while they continue their collegiate careers at ASU. 

However, credit must also be given to the upperclassmen that have blazed the trail for these younger players. 

Nevertheless, the young roster is certainly a dominant contributor to softball's unprecedented success this season.

With huge wins over the last few weeks along with standout underclassmen players like Juarez and Gibson, ASU softball has made their mark on the conference. ASU's young players will undoubtedly bring ASU softball to new heights for the duration of the season.

"They're making a statement not only to the Pac-12," Bell said, "but to the rest of the country." 

Reach the columnist at kcdoyle2@asu.edu or follow @kellydoyle06 on Twitter.

Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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