What a wild weekend in Eugene for the Sun Devils (28-5, 9-0 Pac-12).
A clean three game sweep of Oregon (24-11, 4-8) pushed the winning streak to an incredible 17 in a row. On top of that, Arizona State is now the leader of the Pac-12 after UCLA (32-5, 10-2) took two tough 1-0 losses to Stanford (26-10, 5-4). They are now also ranked tenth in the nation, according to Softball America’s most recent posting.
As the leader of the conference, ASU looks to keep the good times rolling in its next series against Utah (20-17, 4-5) starting Thursday. The Utes are coming off of two straight wins against the University of California (22-17, 4-8), where they put up at least five runs in every game of the series.
Is that enough to overcome a team like ASU? Unlikely, but possible.
The two offenses in question are essentially polar opposites.
The Sun Devils, as we’ve seen over the course of the whole season to this point, play a brand of ball that relies more on power than anything else. Yes, most of the runs are usually strung together through rallies. But, it’s the long ball or a hard drive into the gap that has really gotten it done for ASU thus far.
Utah is a team that is perfectly fine playing small ball – getting on base, swiping bases and passing the torch to the next hitter. They lead the Pac-12 in stolen bases at 71, they’re second in sacrifice bunts, and in the top half of the conference in total hits. The offense is pretty similar to Oregon in that respect, it’s just the power that isn’t really there for the Utes.
The biggest threat on the bases for Utah is junior infielder, and Phoenix native, Haley Denning. The Arcadia High School product has 17 stolen bases on 19 attempts this year to go along with her .387 batting average and 28 runs scored. She’s an on-base machine that is always a threat to get into scoring position with her legs.
The best overall hitter for the Utes all season long has been senior swiss army knife, Ellessa Bonstrom, another Arizona native. Her stat line this year is impressive, to say the least. Hitting at a .452 clip, Bonstrom has eight homers, 33 runs batted in, and has an on-base percentage that is approaching .600.
For reference, in 2004, Barry Bonds broke the MLB record for highest OBP in history at .609. So, she’ll be a force to be reckoned with for the next three games.
The pitching for Utah is what will make or break their chances in this series. The ace of the staff, Sydney Sandez, has had a very solid season. The senior leads the staff in just about every major statistical category: ERA (2.20), innings pitched (108), wins (8), strikeouts (88) and more.
She pitched in all three games of the Cal series, leading them to victory in the two games she started. However, she can slip up from time to time. In her last ten appearances, Sandez has given up four-or-more runs in four of them. We’ll see which Sandez shows up in Tempe against an offense that is tearing through the Pac-12.
As for the Sun Devils, it’s going to be business as usual.
Jazmine Hill is coming off of a huge series in Oregon, stacking up three home runs and seven RBI, including the grand slam that put ASU on top in the series finale. Her big weekend earned her Pac-12 player of the week.
Jazmyn Rollin hit two homers in game one, Cydney Sanders had a big three-run bomb in game three, and even Jessica Puk drove in three runs during the series.
You know what you’re going to get from the pitching side of things. Morgan, Shuld and Lopez are going to pound the zone and make Utah beat them by putting multiple hits together in an inning. Oregon’s lineup matched up fairly well against ASU’s pitching, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see some stellar performances facing the Utes.
This will be an interesting matchup, for sure. On one side, it’s all about speed, advancing runners, and manufacturing runs. On the other, it’s all about cashing in with runners on, good pitching and having the power bats produce.
If the top of the lineup can continue to produce as it has been, and the pitching can be as consistent as it has all season, ASU could be on their way to their 18th, 19th and 20th consecutive wins of the year.
First pitch on Thursday in Tempe is 7:00 MST.
All three games will be available on ASU’s live-stream.