A season in review for ASU softball

Despite an 0-2 trip at the Women's College World Series, ASU softball had a season to remember

Amidst an 0-2 trip at the Women’s College World Series, the ASU softball team put the finishing touches on a 2018 season where they completely exceeded any preseason expectations that were put on them.

And although ASU didn’t come up with any victories during its trip to Oklahoma City, there really wasn’t a sense from players, coaches or anyone within the program that Saturday was the end of a season.

Rather, the Sun Devils’ trip to Oklahoma City wasn’t the end of a book, but it was just the opening page to a narrative that still has many more chapters left to write.

“There's a lot to build off on this team,” ASU sophomore outfielder Kindra Hackbarth said after ASU’s season came to a close. “I mean, we have really important people leaving us but we're going to keep growing ... We'll keep building, give it all up at practice. You're not, I'm telling you, this is not going to be the last time you see Sun Devil softball.”

Next year, ASU will have nearly its entire roster returning from this year’s Women’s College World Series run.

Highlighted by returning players like sophomore pitcher Giselle “G” Juarez, junior outfielder Morgan Howe and sophomore shortstop Jade Gortarez, the Sun Devils already have the looks of a team who is only going to grow.

Going into this season, a lot of questions surrounded the loss of former players like Sashel Palacios and Chelsea Gonzales. 10 new players came into the program, including transfers and freshmen, and many people could only wonder what the chemistry of such a newly acquainted team could amount to.

Those questions were answered quickly. 

In ASU’s first weekend of the season, Howe, Kindra Hackbarth and sophomore catcher Maddi Hackbarth quickly made their presences felt. 

The trio hit a combined .473 at the plate in their first weekend. In addition to the three transfers from Fresno State, Gortarez (who was a transfer from Texas) quickly showed her defensive prowess by making dazzling defensive plays time and time again.

Going into conference play, ASU had just three losses. The Sun Devils recorded a series win to open Pac-12 play against a then undefeated Washington team, and they went on to finish third in a loaded conference that sent seven out of its nine teams to the postseason.

“I don't think I could be more proud of them as a group,” ASU head coach Trisha Ford said. “I think we had contributions from freshmen all the way up to fifth-year seniors.”

As Ford said, there were contributions from top to bottom. Freshman first baseman Danielle Gibson led ASU in home runs, and freshman infielder Denae Chatman went from being a day-to-day pinch-hitter/designated player, to hitting in the cleanup spot by the end of the season.

And while it’s easy to look at all of the great talent returning, there will be a couple of Sun Devils who have seen their final days in an ASU uniform. 

Six seniors will exit the program, and their presences certainly won’t be overlooked.

Getting an opportunity to play in Oklahoma City during their senior seasons, and after experiencing multiple coaching changes, Marisa Stankiewicz and Breanna Macha were able to close their careers in memorable fashion under this year’s Pac-12 Coach of the Year.

“Bringing in Coach (Trisha) Ford was probably the best thing that this program needed to get back on track,” Stankiewicz said. “It means a lot to especially our senior class, me and Bre ... I think Arizona State softball is on its way back to being one of the greatest teams you're ever going to mess with.”

Then there was the ASU pitching staff. Between Juarez and Macha, the two pitchers recorded a combined 1.70 ERA, and they turned into a 1-2 punch. 

“I’ll get emotional. She's a huge part of why I'm at where I'm at,” Juarez said of Macha. “She's inspired me in so many ways. She's taught me how to be gritty and expect more out of yourself even when you think that's the best you've got ... I mean, she's a huge inspiration to me.”

Of the eight coaches at this year’s Women’s College World Series, Ford had the shortest tenure of any of the coaches at their respective schools.

For each player, it was their first time playing in Oklahoma City. With experienced returning players who are led by their respected head coach, the 2018 season was one that will be reflected on, and be remembered as the team that put Sun Devil Softball back into the ranks of the elite.

“At the end of the day, we'll keep making our adjustments and even in this last game, the adjustments were still being made,” Gortarez said. “We're still asking each other, still pushing each other. We just didn't come out on top, but at the end of the day we're going to be back here.”

Reach the reporter at atbell1@asu.edu or follow @AndrewBell7 on Twitter.

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