Loomis, Andersen providing boosts as conference play begins

No. 17 ASU softball opens Pac-12 play with Oregon State in Tempe

ASU softball has finished its non-conference slate, but now the challenge within Pac-12 play awaits.

No. 17 ASU ended non-conference play Tuesday night with a 14-0 run-rule win against Lehigh in five innings, improving to 20-7 on the season. Within arguably the toughest softball conference – along with the SEC – ASU has eight three-game series remaining, and six of those opponents are ranked or received votes in the latest poll, including No. 1 UCLA, No. 5 Washington and No. 12 Arizona.

Through the non-conference season, ASU has started to gain consistent pitching performances and has found an improved pace and pulse throughout the lineup offensively. ASU coach Trisha Ford has confidence in her team as it heads into the Pac-12 season.

“I think we are starting to find our stride,” Ford said. “… We are definitely moving in a good direction.”

ASU has found a powerful and productive lineup, so far this season, as six players have at least four home runs: junior catcher Maddi Hackbarth (9), sophomore infielder Bella Loomis (9), junior outfielder Kindra Hackbarth (7), senior outfielder Morgan Howe (7), sophomore infielder DeNae Chatman (6) and senior outfielder Skylar McCarty (4). 

All of those players also have at least 20 RBIs, including Howe with a team-high 34 and Maddi Hackbarth with 32. 

Ford continues to be impressed with Kindra Hackbarth and Howe at the top of the order, saying both have continued to grow and produce at the plate. Hackbarth has a team-high .425 batting average from the lead-off spot while Howe has the third best at .400.

However, Ford might be the most impressed with Loomis from the plate. It wasn’t necessarily expected, but Ford also isn’t surprised that Loomis has had so much production.

“We are starting to see what we all knew she was capable of,” Ford said. “… I think she has had a tremendous non-conference season.”

Loomis wasn’t in the starting lineup as a freshman, but Ford said she has worked hard to be more consistent. 

It has showed as Loomis has provided a serious boost from the bottom of the order, tying Maddi Hackbarth with a team-high nine home runs. Loomis also has 28 RBIs and the third best batting average at .390, and she has a .966 slugging percentage, which leads the team by a wide margin.

Ford also noted a few more observations, including that Loomis at second base has linked well with junior shortstop Jade Gortarez defensively, Maddi Hackbarth controls the defense from behind the plate and pitching has steadily improved from the start of the season.

ASU has a plethora of pitching options, including junior Samantha Mejia (10-3), redshirt junior Cielo Meza (2-1), freshman Mikayla Santa Cruz (1-0) and freshman Abby Andersen (7-3), who has provided a boost to the pitching staff.

Andersen unexpectedly received her first start against then-No. 4 Florida on Feb. 15, and, although star pitcher Kelly Barnhill outdueled her and ASU lost, she played well. Since then, Andersen has received more opportunities. 

Andersen has a team-best 1.96 ERA in 53.2 innings and has had five complete games and the only two shutouts for the Sun Devils, and she has continued to improve and learn. Most recently against Lehigh, she nearly had a perfect game, but it was ended with the lone hit to begin the fifth inning.

“She wants the ball,” Ford said.

This weekend, ASU starts a challenging conference season with a series against Oregon State (16-5), which is receiving the third-most votes for an unranked team in the latest poll. 

OSU also won against Missouri early in the season, a team that run-ruled ASU in Tempe. Last season, Ford described the series against the Beavers as “weird,” so she knows her team will have to come into Farrington Stadium ready.

For Ford, right now, she just wants her team to improve defensively, and when preparing, she doesn’t necessarily pay attention to what team will occupy the other dugout.

“I don’t talk much about who we are playing because I am firm believer that we can control what we can control,” Ford said. “You can put some (team) over there, and I don’t really care who it is.”

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misstated Bella Loomis' batting average. The article has been updated to reflect this change. 

Reach the reporter at nahiatt@asu.edu or follow @NATE_HIATT on Twitter.

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