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ASU softball hopes to get season back on track after first series win

Sun Devil softball opened its season 15-2 but recently hit a stretch that first-year head coach Megan Bartlett described as a "rough patch"

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ASU pitcher Kenzie Brown (10) celebrates after striking out an Arizona batter at Alberta B. Farrington Softball Stadium in Tempe on Friday, March 10, 2023.

As the 2022-23 season winds down with 16 games remaining before the conference tournament, the ASU softball team sits at 20-11, already at its loss mark from a season ago when the club rallied to a 43-11 record. But its up-and-down season has yet to express ineptitude, but rather grit and resiliency.  

First-year Sun Devil head coach Megan Bartlett crafted an adaptable bunch when assembling the team's roster. A group equipped to withstand significant highs and lows, as they have throughout the season.

Opening up 12-2, the Sun Devils flashed the offensive potential Bartlett raved about before the season. The Sun Devils are producing players thriving from multiple positions. That starts at bat with the team's lead-off hitter, graduate student Yannira Acuña, who, after hitting her 38th double against Weber State, entered ASU's top-10 all-time in the stat.

"Hit-ability, hit-ability, hit-ability," Bartlett said, describing the offense's identity.

Early in the year against Northern Illinois, Acuña hit a walk-off double to right center, scoring freshman catcher Shannon Cunningham to help the Sun Devils rally from behind. Senior outfielder Jazmine Hill finished Weber State with a solo home run in the fifth inning. 

Bartlett said junior transfer pitcher Mac Osborne was "buried behind some really good pitchers" at Virginia Tech, so she didn't need to tend much to her skill, more on the confidence side. Osborne rewarded her coach with two shutout wins — allowing one hit in each against DePaul and San Diego State University.

Senior infielder Jordyn VanHook, who led the nation in home runs early in the season, has been a revelation and her 14 home runs lead the Pac-12 this season. And freshman pitcher Kylee Magee has started 13 games for ASU. 

On top of the surplus of talent, the character in the locker room played a considerable role in ASU's early success. 

"Just knowing that they're right behind me and talking to me every pitch, whether I threw a ball or I threw a strike, or one foul ball — the energy from the dugout feeds in to outside, on the field, so it's very energetic," Osborne said. 

While camaraderie contributed to ASU's excellent start, turmoil arrived in the form of a familiar foe, Arizona, on March 10. The Arizona series initiated the Sun Devils' "rough patch." 

The Wildcats outscored the Sun Devils by 20 runs in the first two games of its mid-March series in Tempe. Despite sweeping Iowa State in late February, the Sun Devils have struggled to maintain complete performances through a weekend series. 

ASU finished the series against the Wildcats with a 4-3 Sunday victory that, until this weekend's Washington series, led off a string of weekends that saw the Sun Devils repeat the pattern of losing the Friday and Saturday games while charming its opponent on its third attempt on Sunday. 

ASU lost a six-inning bout against UCF 8-0 — UCF didn't surrender a hit — to open its journey in the Oklahoma State Mizuno Classic, and couldn't bounce back in a contest against No. 2 Oklahoma State in a game the Cowgirls won 1-0. After dropping its next game to Minnesota, ASU avenged its blemish against UCF, dominating its way to a 6-0 victory.

In Berkeley, California, the Sun Devils, again, narrowly dropped the first two games in its series against Cal. In the first game, Acuña got the ball rolling for ASU's offense, hitting her fourth first-inning leadoff home run this season. But the Golden Bears rallied, slicing into ASU's lead for good with two fifth-inning runs that edged them past ASU with a 4-3 win. The Golden Bears beat the Sun Devils again Saturday 2-0, but the Devils continued their Sunday streak and beat California 4-2 in Sunday's eight-inning contest. 

After the loss to Washington on March 31 in the series opener, Bartlett said it was essential the squad remain level-headed. 

"They just have to keep fighting," Bartlett said. "If they allow the foundation of beliefs to crumble, then it's over. The rest of the season is done. We always try to pull things back to life, and you will never outkick your own coverage. If you don't believe you're capable, you are 1,000% not going to be capable."

Bartlett's message harbored enough depth to rally the squad to back-to-back wins against it's No. 8 ranked opponent. Junior infielder Savannah Price settled the rubber match against Washington on Sunday with a grand slam in the bottom of the fourth inning to earn coach Bartlett her first Pac-12 series win as a Sun Devil. 

"Coach B's first series win, we're very excited about that and to celebrate for her," Price said. "Just to give back to her and all of the hard work that we put into this past week just really paid off."

Next, the Sun Devils take the road to Salt Lake City with an opportunity to advance themselves in the right direction against a .759 Utah team, No. 19/24 as of March 27. The first pitch will start the ballgame at 3 p.m. MST Thursday on Pac-12 Network. 

Correction: This story was updated on Monday, April 3, 2023, at 10:50 p.m. to correctly state Acuña's walk-off hit was a double scoring Cunningham in the game against Northern Illinois, Magee has started in 13 games and does not lead the team in strikeouts. Utah's win percentage was also updated to reflect that of the 2023 season. It was updated again on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, at 1:40 p.m. to clarify OSU won the game on March 17.

Edited by Kathryn Field, Reagan Priest and Caera Learmonth.

Reach the reporter at and follow @AlfredS_III on Twitter. 

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