No. 8 Arizona State makes its 12th trip to the Women’s College World Series with this being the first since 2013. The Sun Devils notched four titles in those 12 trips in 1972, 1973, 2008 and 2011.
Continuing with double elimination format, ASU will face off against No. 1 seed Oregon Thursday at 9 a.m. MT, followed by a matchup with either reigning champion No. 4 Oklahoma or Pac-12 foe No. 5 Washington on Friday.
Before you can sit back, relax and watch some softball, it is important to know what kind of a stage that ASU is sharing, and what ASU is bringing to the table. Here are the five things you need to watch for in this year’s WCWS:
1. Lights out pitching
ASU’s pitching has been so good it needed its own category.
The totals are indeed led by sophomore lefty Giselle “G” Juarez, but the staff is led by the senior duo of Dale Ryndak and Breanna Macha. The staff is rounded out by sophomore Alyssa Loza who has remained constant throughout her second season.
Macha has 54 career victories, which puts her at 11th in ASU career wins and she has been heating up as of late in the past regional and super regional.
Juarez has been the face of ASU for the majority of the season. She was recently named to the NFCA All-American First-Team, and it is no secret as to why; posting a 0.90 ERA and striking out 297 batters.
2. Coaching a winning philosophy
When coach Trisha Ford came to campus just two years ago, she faced a challenge. She needed the older players to buy into her system and take the illustrious program to new heights. Two years later, the results are on the page.
During this season in particular, she led the team to a 43-win season and scooped up her 200th career victory as a head coach. She has helped to lower the team’s ERA from 3.66 in 2016 to 1.40 this season.
3. Conferences at play
ASU is joined alongside Oregon, Washington and No. 3 UCLA as representatives of the Pac-12. This of course makes up half of the field. Oklahoma is the lone representative of the Big 12, Florida State represents the ACC and Florida and Georgia hail from the competitive SEC.
The last time that the Pac-12 sent four teams to the final was 2006. ASU was a part of that group.
ASU has the advantage of familiarity having played four of the seven opposing teams this season. This includes a win against UCLA on the road, one against Oregon and two against Washington at home.
4. Something Old, Something New
The combination of ages on this team has made them as good as it is. The wealth of depth, as coach Ford has termed it, has allowed her to be flexible with how she sets the lineup each game.
Early in the season, a lot of veterans took the lead. An opening lineup featured four new transfers in sophomore outfielder Kindra Hackbarth, sophomore catcher Maddi Hackbarth, junior outfielder Morgan Howe and sophomore shortstop Jade Gortarez.
Over the course of the season, the rotation of freshmen into the lineup has only served to benefit this team. First baseman Danielle Gibson and designated player DeNae Chatman have sparked their offense with the long ball and clutch hitting. The two combine for 20 of the team’s 64 home runs and have the highest slugging percentages on the team with Gibson at .646 and Chatman at .659.
At the same time, redshirt senior Marisa Stankiewicz has continued to be a vocal presence at second base, and junior third baseman Taylor Becerra and junior outfielder Skylar McCarty find themselves making impacts at the plate and defensively.
5. They may be the underdog, but they came to play
For a team that was predicted to be no better than sixth in its conference at the beginning of the season, getting the eighth seed and finishing third in the conference behind UCLA and Oregon is a huge accomplishment.
After sweeping their way through the first two rounds, ASU goes from the favorite to the underdog, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, seeding means nothing at this point. These are the eight best teams in the country.
As mentioned before, ASU has played four of the seven opposing teams and in all those occasions the Sun Devils were the underdog. But they fared well having not been swept in a single series this year.
In most of those series’, Juarez has been lights out including two shutout victories against Washington. The bats have come through at the right time like when Stankiewicz lined a pitch from UCLA’s Rachel Garcia over the fence for a three-run homer; on the road no less.