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Hackbarth looks to add to home run tally, No. 14 Sun Devils head to Utah

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To the mountains

Brady Vernon

After a successful, but inconsistent weekend against Washington, No. 14 Arizona State (19-8, 2-4 Pac-12) heads to Utah (11-13, 0-6) for a three-game set.

The Sun Devils have already beat Utah twice this season in conference contests and the Utes are still looking for their first conference win.

Every loss for the Utes this season, besides one, has come against a Pac-12 foe. However, Amy Hogue’s squad has played UCLA and Oregon tough on multiple occasions this year.

Let’s jump into a few things to look for.

Getting Maddi Hackbarth back into the home run column

It’s been nine games since Maddi Hackbarth has hit a home run. There are multiple variables into that; facing the likes of Rachel Garcia, Gabbie Plain and Megan Faraimo, and simply facing teams that avoid pitching to her.

Nevertheless, this weekend should be a perfect opportunity for that power stroke to come back.

In her career, Hackbarth has eight home runs against Utah. Add in that Rocky Mountain elevation, one could assume there will be a home run or two from her.

She continues to chase the Arizona State single-season record of 20 home runs, and she still can obtain that as she enters the series with 12 so far this season.

This stretch for her — and an opportunity for the offense as a whole to really get rolling — will be very important in her pursuit of the school record.

Arizona State won’t face another elite echelon pitcher like the team did against UCLA and Washington until the final home series at the end of April against Oregon and Brooke Yanez. The chances will be there and the chase should be fun to watch.

The Pitching Situation

The Sun Devils won the Pac-12 series against Washington. Although the teams split the four-game series, the Huskies scored 25 runs in the final two games. Part of that was errors, but mostly was the performance in the circle.

Allison Royalty and Lindsay Lopez shared a moment following Sunday’s game against the Huskies. It appeared to be a realization that the two are going to need to have each other’s back the rest of the season.

Cielo Meza, the only other pitcher, looks to be battling the mental aspect of her game and has not pitched at a level where Trisha Ford would have confidence in using her.

Royalty and Lopez might be the only pitchers used this weekend with there only being three games, as the two teams agreed to shorten the series. The two are still inexperienced and battling through their first Pac-12 seasons together.

It’ll be ugly at times, but it’ll probably make for one of the better, if not most talented, pitching staffs in the Ford era next season when Marissa Schuld is healthy and eligible, and highly-ranked recruit Mac Morgan gets into the program.

Enjoy the highs and understand the lows as the two likely carry the load for the rest of the Pac-12 season.

Other Pac-12 notes

  • Arizona and Stanford seems to be the most fun series of the weekend. The Wildcat lineup exploded against Oregon State and seems to be back on track. Olympian Dejah Mulipola has kept a hot bat all season and Jessie Harper finally got going with four home runs against the Beavers. Meanwhile, Stanford once again has snuck its way to a good start to the season. It’s much in part due to the Cardinal starting pitching. Alana Vawter (0.77) and Regan Krause (1.32) both have had good ERAs this season. So is the Stanford pitching duo legit? Are the Wildcat bats going to stay hot? A few questions to be had in Palo Alto.
  • Oregon and Oregon State meet in their Pac-12 series. The Ducks have only lost one game this season — to UCLA, who Oregon also beat already — and already run-ruled the Beavers in a non-conference game. Oregon State is better than what happened against Arizona, however, Oregon might be playing at an even higher level. If the Ducks can sweep all four games and roll into their series versus UCLA with a 27-1 record against a Bruins team that would be coming out of a two-week COVID-19 pause, well, Oregon might be the favorite in that series.
  • UCLA is still on pause and will miss its non-conference weekend that each team has in the nine-team conference. It’s interesting to see if the Bruins will be able to play Oregon and how their pause changes the landscape of the conference title run.
  • Washington hosts Cal in what should be the perfect weekend for the Huskies to try and solve their biggest weakness. The Bears lineup hasn’t been great by any means. Heather Tarr should be able to trust her non-Gabbie-Plain pitchers more to see how they can step up into that role. Kelley Lynch, a former top overall recruit, has had walk issues and stuff that looked flat against Arizona State. Sarah Willis throws hard, but is still a freshman herself and is clearly still working on stuff like her changeup. I’d imagine after facing Arizona and Arizona State, Plain sees her least amount of work against Cal and her fellow pitching staff will get more innings.