The Devils will leave Oklahoma City without a victory, but there is no shame in that.
Arizona State saw its season end on Saturday against the Oklahoma Sooners. After falling to Pac-12 foe Oregon on Thursday, the Sun Devils couldn’t get past the two-time defending champions in the elimination game.
Finishing the season ranked eighth in the nation, having wins over WCWS participants Oregon, Washington, UCLA and returning back to OKC for the first time since 2013 isn’t too bad for a team picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12 in the preseason.
For a very young team, the experience ASU gained is a stepping stone to help bring back a fifth softball title to Tempe in the near future. Star pitcher Giselle “G” Juarez will be returning for her junior year. Of the starting lineup used for most of the postseason, eight of the nine starters will be back for the Sun Devils next season.
Arizona State will lose a six-player senior class. Although, toward the end of the year only pitcher Breanna Macha and second baseman Marisa Stankiewicz were playing full time. Stankiewicz’s position is expected to be taken by soon-to-be sophomore infielder Bella Loomis, who should help boost the Devils’ defense.
Filling Macha’s role looks to be more of a question mark. Pitcher Alyssa Loza has only seen 48 innings in her first two seasons. The Sun Devils’ recruiting class does include two pitchers, Abby Andersen from Hamilton High School (Chandler) and Mikayla Santa Cruz from Canyon Del Oro High School (Tucson).
But filling the roles of Macha, Stankiewicz, fellow seniors Dale Ryndak, Brynley Steele and Nichole Chilson is more than just playing. They bought into what Ford brought to the Sun Devils after leaving Frenso State.
“I thank the seniors and Stanks, (indiscernible) a super senior, they helped build this. They brought ASU softball back to where it belongs,” Ford said. “And I just thank them for setting the standard, hanging tight with us and just doing a heck of a job and competing and showing the young ones what it looks like to be an ASU softball player.”
Of everything returning to the Devils for the 2019 campaign, Ford will be the most important. After being named the fourth different Arizona State head coach since 2013 when she was hired in the summer of 2016, Ford has implemented stability and a culture players enjoy back into the Sun Devil program.
“Without Coach Ford we don’t come back here. She’s led us,” Macha said. “And every day she’s been tough. I mean that’s what you want as a coach; you want her to be tough on you and just love on you. And I just think like this is exactly what this program needed.”
“She’s more than a coach. I consider her like another mom. I mean, she’s just always there no matter what happens, personally, and just on the field,” right fielder Kindra Hackbarth said. “She pushes you to be the best you can be. We’ve been through a lot; me, my family, Coach Ford, we love her. She’s all we can ask for. She pushes me to be the best person I can be on and off the field.”
And Hackbarth said it best after the loss against Oklahoma on Saturday.
“I mean, we had a really good run. I wish we kept going. But there’s a lot to build off on this team. I mean, we have really important people leaving us but we’re going to keep growing. It’s not the last you’ll see from us. We’ll keep building, give it all up at practice. You’re not, I’m telling you this is not going to be the last time you see Sun Devil softball.”