Preview: ASU softball approaching the new season with high hopes

No. 12 ASU softball begins the season in Tempe in the Kajikawa Classic

After advancing to the Women’s College World Series for the 12th time in program history last season, the ASU softball team comes into 2019 with an expectation to return to Oklahoma City.

ASU coach Trisha Ford will play this season without many key players from the previous season, in which the Sun Devils finished 48-13 and 16-8 in Pac-12 play. 

"I am excited. It will give us a good gauge of where we are at," Ford said. "We are in a good place. I think we will be very, very competitive, and I am very confident that we will come out and compete. I am ready to see what they got."

A few months ago, ASU was hit with multiple transfer departures, such as star sophomore left-handed pitcher Giselle "G" Juarez to Oklahoma, freshman infielder Danielle Gibson, who finished with a team-high 12 home runs, to Arkansas and sophomore pitcher Alyssa Loza to Mississippi State.

ASU also lost right-handed pitchers Breanna Macha and Dale Ryndak, infielders Marisa Stankiewicz and Kwyn Cooper and outfielders Nichole Chilson and Brynley Steele to graduation.

The Sun Devils will have to replace the dominant pitching from last season as there are no pitchers returning for this season. 

 In order to rebuild its pitching staff, ASU added freshmen Mikayla Santa Cruz and Abby Anderson. The team also gained junior Samantha Mejia from Fresno State as well as redshirt junior Cielo Meza from Long Beach State. Meza earned a spot on the 2019 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Watch List.

Despite these departures, ASU opens the season as No. 12 in the preseason poll, and on Tuesday, the Sun Devils were picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 behind No. 2 UCLA, No. 3 Washington and No. 7 Arizona. 

However, many key veteran players return to the Sun Devils this year, including junior infielder Jade Gortarez, senior infielder Taylor Becerra, junior outfielder Kindra Hackbarth, senior outfielder Morgan Howe, junior catcher Maddi Hackbarth and senior outfielder Skylar McCarty. ASU also returns sophomore infielder DeNae Chatman, who finished last season with nine home runs, and sophomore infielder Bella Loomis.

“We were really young last year,"  Ford said. "We have quite a few returning obviously offensively and defensively. So I think for us they are comfortable. They know what it takes at a high level, and they know the expectations and those seniors will not settle for anything less.”

ASU will be challenged, again, with its schedule as it has 19 matchups against teams ranked in the preseason poll, including No. 5 Florida, No. 16 Texas twice, No. 19 Michigan, No. 20 Texas A&M, No. 22 Oklahoma State and No. 23 James Madison in non-conference play. 

ASU will kickoff the season this weekend in the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe against Western Michigan, Missouri, Kansas, Weber State and California State University, Northridge.

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