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'Survival of the fittest': ASU softball prepares for tough Pac-12 schedule

After going 17-2 in non-conference play, the Sun Devils begin their Pac-12 schedule on Friday against No. 2 UCLA


The ASU softball team huddles before their matchup versus Baylor at Alberta B. Farrington Softball Stadium in Tempe, on Sunday, March 14, 2021. ASU lost 7-2.

After going 17-2 through non-conference play, No. 11 ASU softball is entering Pac-12 play with its highest ranking since 2014. However, the competition the Sun Devils will face won't get any easier.

The Pac-12 is one of the best conferences in the nation, having five teams currently ranked in the top 25, four of which are in the top 10.

One of those teams, No. 2 UCLA, will serve as ASU's opponent for its first Pac-12 series of the season, which starts Friday. The series will be ASU's first Pac-12 series since 2019, as all of last season's conference games were canceled due to COVID-19.

After ASU's 7-2 loss to Baylor on Sunday, fifth-year senior catcher Maddi Hackbarth said the team's sophomores, who did not get to experience a conference series last year, and freshmen "are very excited."

"It's their first time playing in the Pac-12, they're gonna see what it's about," Hackbarth said on Sunday. "I always say in the past, and I will continue to say: I think the Pac-12 is the best competition in college softball, and I think that this year is going to be fun."

Although ASU had its 10-game win streak snapped by Baylor, sophomore right fielder Jazmine Hill believes it was beneficial to play such a tough opponent right before conference play.

"It was nice to see Baylor, a top school, right before another top school just to get our heads right," Hill said. "We're just gonna have to keep our heads up and work even harder for this weekend."

ASU's only other loss besides Baylor came in a 5-3 loss to current No. 1 Oklahoma earlier this season. Sophomore shortstop Alynah Torres said the Sun Devils' close game versus the Sooners gave them the confidence they needed.

"We know we can hang with bigger teams and we are a big team, so we aren't scared of nobody," Torres said.

As of Thursday, UCLA softball is not allowing any fans to attend their home games at Easton Stadium. Torres said energy is something ASU was lacking in its game against Baylor, and with no fans in Easton Stadium, it will be up to ASU's players to keep its squad energized against UCLA.

"There's no fans, the energy isn't coming from the stadium, so we're going to have to create our own," Torres said. "If you have energy and momentum, then the game's gonna go your way."

Despite the tough competition awaiting the Sun Devils in conference play, Torres said the team's mindset will remain the same.

"It's always going to be different just because it's conference (play), but I feel like we're having the same approach to every game," Torres said. "Play like we usually play and don't put it (conference games) on this pedestal of it being so much different than anything else."

Torres said head coach Trisha Ford reminded the team it will need a "strong mentality every game" and everyone will "have to be ready at all times."

"We just need to take it pitch by pitch and honestly just play the game," Torres said. "It's gonna be difficult because we're going to see their pitchers and they're going to see our pitchers. It's more of who's the strongest — survival of the fittest, pretty much." 

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