After the Kajikawa Classic, the Sun Devils have a 2-2 record with losses to No. 25 Northwestern and Boise State.
With their opening-day game against Wisconsin rained out, the team opened its season on Feb. 9 against a familiar opponent: Northwestern. The Wildcats knocked ASU out of the Super Regionals in 2022. The matchup finished 2-0 and was a well-pitched game on both sides.
ASU starting pitcher sophomore Kylee Magee threw an astonishing 151 pitches and struck out 11 batters while allowing only two runs. Northwestern starter Ashley Miller outdueled Magee as she struck out 11 batters on 104 pitches and did not allow a run.
After the first game, where the Sun Devil bats were almost nonexistent, the second game of the day changed that as ASU defeated St. Thomas 9-4 in a game led offensively by the efforts of graduate student infielder Alesia Denby and sophomore outfielder Yannixa Acuña.
Denby hit her first home run as a Sun Devil in the first inning and added a second home run in the fourth. She also hit a sac fly in the fifth to give her two hits and four RBIs in three at-bats. Numbers like these are why Denby was brought to ASU in the first place.
"We brought Denby in fully hoping that she was going to continue to perform," assistant coach Hailey Decker said. "The transition going into the PAC is going to be difficult, but she is talented enough to do it. We have so much belief in Denby's leadership and her athleticism."
Acuña started off her night with a single in the first inning. She followed this with an RBI double in the third and an RBI triple in the fifth. She went into her final at-bat of the night one home run away from a natural cycle, and even though she could not accomplish this rare feat, she exceeded her total bases from last season in one game.
The numbers that Acuña has put up through four games this season have exceeded her coach's expectations.
"Yannixa has capitalized on an opportunity," Decker said. "A couple of players went down, and she stepped into the role, and she’s proven herself. Is this what we expected? No. But am I surprised she is out there competing and capitalizing on the opportunity she's gotten? No, and I’m proud of her for that."
The first game on Feb. 10 was against graduate student Kelsey Hall’s former team, the Boise State Broncos. This game started with a bang as the Sun Devils scored four runs in the bottom of the first off of the Broncos starter, who only pitched 0.1 inning.
After this loud start, ASU was completely shut out, and Magee, who started after throwing a complete game less than 24 hours earlier, allowed four earned runs through 2.2 innings pitched.
Graduate student pitcher Marissa Schuld entered the game in the top of the third and kept the game within reach, allowing only one run in 4.1 innings pitched. However, the Sun Devils' bats remained dormant, as they only got two hits after the Broncos starter was pulled. The game ended as a 6-4 Boise State victory.
The inconsistency that plagued the Sun Devil's at-bats during the Kajikawa Classic could be of some concern to the team moving forward. However, these games were played without last year's breakout star, graduate student infielder Jordyn VanHook. The team certainly misses her bat in the lineup, as it was one the coaching staff was counting on having this season.
The final game of the day on Saturday, ASU's last game in the Kajikawa Classic, was against the Maine Black Bears. This game included an explosive performance at the plate by sophomore catcher Shannon Cunningham and a dominant performance in the circle by senior pitcher Mac Osborne that fueled the team’s 9-1 victory. Cunningham's offensive performance will continue to boost her confidence as the season continues.
"I spent some time in Florida this summer in the (Florida Gulf Coast League)," Cunningham said. "That was to boost my confidence, give me more at-bats and remember why I love the game."
Unlike Cunningham, Osborne was making her second start of the season against Maine, and unlike her previous start, she pitched a complete game Saturday night. In this game, Osborne was able to miss bats extremely well, as she finished the night with 10 strikeouts. Osborne currently leads the team with 10.9 strikeouts pe7, a K% of 35%, and an opponent whiff percentage of 16.56%.
“My goal is to keep the ball spinning,” Osborne said. “Batters nowadays are really good at hitting speed. So now I’m just trying to miss bats, whether it’s a groundout, a pop out, a strikeout or whatever I can do to help my team.”
The Sun Devils look to improve on their start to the year when they face BYU on Thursday, kicking off a five-game weekend in Tempe.
Edited by Vinny DeAngelis, Walker Smith and Shane Brennan