Arizona State softball was not expected to win the Pac-12 title in 2022. In fact, preseason media rankings had the Sun Devils stuffed in the middle of the conference with a projected fifth-place finish.
Those expectations were bulldozed long ago by these Sun Devils, making way for a coronation on Friday night in Seattle. After a 8-4 victory over the Washington Huskies, Arizona State claimed its third Pac-12 title.
Throughout the season, the Sun Devils have voyaged across the Pac-12 universe in a transition from surprisingly competitive, to remarkably consistent, and then finally to dominant front-runners. A 20-game win streak spanning from the end of non-conference play to the first four series of Pac-12 competition served as the hyperspace portal to accelerate that transformation.
As things currently stand, the Sun Devils are ranked fourth in the nation. They have had a secured spot in the NCAA Tournament for weeks by this point, but a series victory over Washington -- which is at stake today -- will most likely solidify the coveted title as Super Regional host.
The 8-4 victory also served as the 19th in conference play this season. That is a program record. Trisha Ford was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year this week, the second time she has achieved such an award.
On the field against the Huskies, the script played out much the same as it has all year. Few teams have hit the long ball as consistently or erupted for big innings as frequently as Arizona State has this season, so no surprise when the catalysts to victory over Washington was a 5-run seventh inning and home runs from Alynah Torres and Cydney Sanders.
Spectacular individual performances have been a common theme in 2022, and it’s a fool’s errand to single out an individual player who has been of greatest value, but at the very top must be Sander’s penchant for power this season.
After the Sun Devils graduated one of its most prolific home run threats last year in Maddi Hackbarth, there was a hole to fill in the middle of the lineup.
Enter Sanders. In just her freshman season, Sanders has clubbed 18 homers. She enters the final game of the regular season just two behind the 20 homers Hackbarth hit in her farewell season.
And No. 18 was a bomb.
Launched into the lake! @SandersCydney punctuates the comeback win with a three-run shot as No. 4 Arizona State clinches a share of the @pac12 title with a 8-4 win against No. 11 Washington. #NCAASoftball x @ASUSoftball pic.twitter.com/EyDkg8oksG— NCAA Softball (@NCAASoftball) May 14, 2022
Lindsay Lopez factored in the decision with a win, but it was Mac Morgan who pitched the Sun Devils into the sixth inning with only a single run across for the Huskies.
In fact, it was Lopez who surrendered the three-run homer that put Washington up 4-3. No stranger to a comeback, the Sun Devils went to work in the top of the seventh on offense.
Jazymyn Rollin drew a walk. Jessica Puk lined a base-hit to bring Rollin in to score. Bella Loomis batted in Puk. Torres reached base as the order flipped to the top, and Sanders hit the emphatic three-run homer to put the game away.
The championship banner that had to stay folded up after a 3-1 loss on Thursday night was brought out, and Arizona State celebrated a truly remarkable accomplishment.
This season was not only the third time the Sun Devils were at the top of the conference by season’s end, it could also serve as a harbinger of things to come. Ford has a proven record as a master recruiter, and she has made few missteps with the transfer portal. This may indeed be the season the Sun Devils returned to their spot as a perennial national title contender.
As the signs point toward even better days ahead for Arizona State, consider one last point. This is the third Pac-12 title for Arizona State. The previous two times the Sun Devils were conference champions were 2008 and 2011, both years the program would celebrate a national title that summer.