This is not the Arizona State Softball team that most people are used to.
Trisha Ford’s Sun Devil teams were defined by the long-ball and double-digit showings on the scorecard.
Megan Bartlett’s team (4-1, 0-0 Pac-12) is going to have a different identity, and we got our first glimpse of that this past weekend at the San Diego State Season Kickoff, where ASU went 4-1 in its first five games of the season.
“The reality is, a 4-2 win is going to be the same as a 14-2 win,” Bartlett said in her preseason media availability last week.
“The identity of this program looks a little bit different moving forward,” she said. “(There has been) a change of leadership, philosophy and honestly just the organic makeup of the kids, but I’m really excited about it.”
“Tough on the Mound”
According to Bartlett, pitching and defense will anchor this years’s squad, while returning sluggers like Yanni Acuña, Jordyn VanHook, Makenna Harper, Jazmine Hill and Jazmyn Rollin will provide the spark offensively.
Bartlett defaulted to the transfer portal in efforts to rebuild the Sun Devil pitching staff that saw four pitchers exit the program after last season. When asked about the new core, Bartlett could not contain her giddiness for freshman Kylee Magee, a Ford-recruit, and inbound transfers Mac Osborne (Virginia Tech), Kenzie Brown (Tulsa) and Deborah Jones (Ball State).
“To be completely honest, we went after the best athletes (in the transfer portal) that we thought we could get,” Bartlett said. “We, of course, had to immediately rebuild the pitching staff. That was going to be our top priority.”
Magee received the first start of the season in the team’s 6-3 win over CSUN. She threw four innings of shutout-ball before conceding three earned runs in the fifth-inning. Against Northern Illinois, she only allowed one earned-run on just four hits while striking out five. She earned no-decisions in both starts.
“Kylee Magee is going to be outstanding,” Bartlett said. “She is going to have a really amazing career here as a Sun Devil.”
In both of Magee’s no-decisions, returning-closer Marissa Schuld earned the wins in late-game battles. Schuld is the trademark returnee in the circle from last year’s team.
“Marissa Schuld is one of the toughest closers in the country,” Bartlett said. “She’s a feisty fireball on the mound.”
“We had some really good (players) choose a different path, but we were also able to keep some amazing athletes,” Bartlett said.
Osborne exercised the clutch-gene by allowing just one total run in four innings of work after she struggled with control and walked four batters against San Diego State in an 8-2 win. Though on Friday, Notre Dame — Bartlett’s alma-mater — recorded 11 hits and seven runs off Osborne in ASU’s first loss of the season.
Brown, who Bartlett tried (unsuccessfully) to recruit to Ball State, struck out nine batters in the 10-0 win over Memphis on Saturday after striking out four in two innings of relief-work against SDSU.
Schuld and Bartlett previously spoke positively of transfer-catchers Gianna Boccagno (Boston College) and Sara Kinch (Minnesota). Boccagno took most of the reps behind the plate last weekend.
In the team’s four wins, there were no shortage of noteworthy offensive performances too.
Yanni Acuña has not skipped-a-beat from her First-Team All-Pac-12 nod last season. After the first weekend of play, Acuña is 9-for-21 with three homers, seven RBI and a walkoff-double to beat NIU 4-3.
“I just want to cherish every moment that I have with my teammates, especially now with my sister (Yannixa Acuña) being on the team. And then having a new coaching staff, I’m just here to embrace it and just enjoy my last season, go out there and just be calm. You know, whatever happens, happens. It’s my last season so I’m just trying to have fun with it and take it all in.”
Rollin is also rollin’ to start the season. She went 8-for-16 with two homers and four RBI.
VanHook returns to ASU after entering the portal following last season’s conclusion, and she also brings back a loud bat in the middle of the lineup. This weekend, she went 5-for-15 with two solo home runs. Harper added two triples and six RBI.
“We obviously hit the drop-ball extraordinarily well,” Bartlett said. “Nothing has changed about that, but can we get on plane with the (rise-ball)? Can we handle off-speed pitches? Are we going to be the toughest team in the country to strikeout?
“With that, and with a really strong pitching staff, and a heavy emphasis on ‘Can we pick up the routine ball when it matters?’ I think (our play) is going to translate really well in the postseason.”
The Sun Devils will host the Littlewood Classic at Farrington Stadium in Tempe this weekend where they will play five games from Thursday-to-Sunday.