Even though the Alabama Crimson Tide have taken Arizona State's crown as the champions of collegiate softball, the Sun Devils have no reason to hang their head. Despite losing several key components from the championship squad, this year's team made another deep run at the Women's College World Series, reaching the tournament's semifinals before falling to Oklahoma.
At first glance, a look at the departing seniors fills a Sun Devil fan with worry for 2013.
Chief among the losses is All-American shortstop Katelyn Boyd. One of the finalists for the National Player of the Year, Boyd was a dynamic force in 2012, leading the Pac-12 in batting and, despite a poor final WCWS, finished the season hitting .419 with 19 home runs, 50 walks, 62 RBI and 22 steals. All those totals led the team, and she also played good defense at shortstop.
Two other everyday starters are also leaving. Left fielder Talor Haro hit .347 and did not commit an error all season. First baseman Annie Lockwood moves on after a career that saw her hit .322 with 42 home runs and 172 RBI. Key reserves Christina Zambrana and Nikole Afusia also depart. Moving on to the Akron Racers is ace pitcher Hillary Bach, who had a terrific year as the team's No. 2 pitcher, going 22-1 with a 1.51 ERA.
While these losses will take their toll, there are several reasons to expect the perennially great Sun Devils to stay strong and make another charge at Oklahoma City.
First is a trio of outstanding freshmen who will be looking go get better in their second seasons.
Catcher Amber Freeman hit .346 and drove in 46 runs during the year while developing into a productive middle-of-the-order hitter, and she also became one of the better defensive catchers in the Pac-12. Her performance during the WCWS led her to be the only Sun Devil named to the All-tournament team.
Center fielder Elizabeth Caporuscio had a great debut season at the plate. In addition to hitting .324, she ranked fifth in the Pac-12 in home runs with 16. At third base, Haley Steele developed into the team's No. 3 hitter and slugged 11 home runs.
Joining Boyd on the first-team All-American squad was right fielder Alix Johnson, and she'll be back for her junior year. After a great freshman year in 2011 as a speedy slap hitter, she developed into an excellent all-around threat. A sluggish WCWS dropped her season average just below .400 to .395, but on the year, she slugged .763, and if she is able to maintain her developmental curve, she should be among the best hitters in the nation.
That foursome will form a potent core for the 2013 Sun Devil lineup. The team also returns the starter at second base, Sam Parlich, and the valuable Bailey Wigness (who hit .396 in 51 games) to the offensive fold.
Perhaps the most important returning component is ace pitcher Dallas Escobedo. After a sensational freshman year that ended with her leading ASU to a national title, some felt she hit a sophomore slump this season, despite going 24-8 with a 2.32 ERA. Another year under her belt should help her continue her ascent among the nation's elite pitchers.
Finally, how can anyone bet against head coach Clint Myers? In his seven seasons in Tempe, he's led the Devils to the WCWS six times. Myers and his staff have proven not only to be able to bring in top talent, but to also develop those players to the best of their ability. There's no reason to think any of that will change. Time to book those tickets to OKC for next June.