Arizona State softball and the success behind one of ASU’s most underrated teams

Jenna Ortiz
Arizona Republic
Arizona's bench cheers after an RBI single by Jazmine Hill during the NCAA Tempe Regional game 3 at Farrington Stadium on May 21, 2022, in Tempe, AZ.

Arizona State prefers less outside noise.

Even when others wanted the Sun Devils to be seeded higher for NCAA Regionals, ASU just focused on making the Super Regionals instead of dwelling on what the NCAA ranked the team. 

The approach worked as ASU will make its first Super Regional appearance in four years this weekend.

“We’ve gotten to this point because we’ve had our heads down and not worry about anything else. We’ll continue to have that kind of approach," ASU coach Trisha Ford said.

The Arizona State softball team celebrates an 11-8 win against San Diego State at Farrington Stadium on Saturday in Tempe, Ariz.

Now in its sixth season under Ford, ASU finished its best conference season in program history with 20 wins and its first Pac-12 championship since 2011. Even as five Pac-12 teams advanced to the Super Regionals, the most of any conference, ASU quietly made its way through the postseason. 

However, ASU isn’t asking for more attention as the team has been fueled by focusing on its own expectations instead of expectations made by others. 

“It’s kind of a product of our environment here. We really do a good job as a coaching staff and the players are older players and have been through this and have not worried about anything else that’s going on. Really it’s worked in our favor this year that we’ve slid through the conference and preseason and nobody has been talking about us,” Ford said. “I think for me, that’s fine with me. We’ll just keep working and put our heads down and work, work, work. Whatever happens, happens at the end.” 

ASU was picked to finish fifth by coaches in the conference in the preseason poll. Fourth-seed UCLA was picked at the top, while Washington, Arizona, and Oregon were also picked ahead. Only UCLA and Arizona are still in contention.  

High expectations set for ASU this season haven’t necessarily worked out. There was ASU football projected to win a Pac-12 South title before the first snap. ASU men’s basketball had a dominant stretch to finish its conference play before going down in the first round of the Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Tournament.  

More:Arizona State vs. Northwestern softball Super Regional: Schedule, how to watch, tickets

For softball, the expectations coming into the season were unknown. The team returned nine starters but 11 players from last season had to be replaced. The task wasn’t easy considering an irreplaceable position like catcher was in the mix with Maddi Hackbarth leaving after four seasons.  

But ASU became the surprise of the year when additions like true freshmen Cydney Sanders and Mac Morgan became key contributors in their respective positions. Sanders is hitting .424 for the season and broke the school record in home runs with her 21st during Sunday’s NCAA Regional Championship. Morgan pitched two complete games at Regionals and holds the most wins on the staff with 18.  

Yanni Acuna leads the team in batting average with .431, but ASU’s success hasn’t hinged on one player. When Sanders was walked by San Diego State in the at-bat following her home run in Sunday’s championship, Jazmine Hill took the challenge and launched a three-run home run.  

May 22, 2022; Tempe, Ariz., U.S; Arizona State outfielder Jazmine Hill (77) is congratulated after a three-run home run against San Diego State during the NCAA softball Tempe regional final at Farrington Stadium.

Hill and others on the team have made it clear that pitching around a player in the lineup is more complicated than it looks. ASU boasts a deep lineup with great chemistry that is hard to pitch against. 

“Our biggest thing is picking each other up. When someone is down or not having their best game, the next person behind them picks them up on that. I think that plays a great part about our team is that we pick each other up,” Hill said.  

Read more: Pac-12 softball teams shine in NCAA Softball Regionals as 5 teams make Super Regional

But even in situations that don’t involve pitching around a player, ASU remains even-keeled when the opposing team takes the lead. ASU held a 3-0 record in the Regional, but there were times when Cal State Fullerton and SDSU took the lead and ASU had to respond to the pressure.  

The stakes will be even higher when No. 9 Northwestern comes to Farrington Stadium. The Wildcats are led by senior pitcher Danielle Williams, a workhorse who started all three games in the Evanston Regional. The Wildcats clobbered opponents in the Regional with two run-rule victories and outscored McNeese 27-5 in the games. 

Northwestern's Danielle Williams during an NCAA softball game on Saturday, May 21, 2022, in Evanston, Ill.

“She’s special, she’s someone who has put her team on her back. We have to respect and we do. I think she’s going to be somebody who’s crafty and just tries to keep us off-balance. We’ll be prepared and we feel like we are prepared, it’s going to be tough. I love the tough and when you go through the tough, you find out who you really are,” Ford said. 

ASU will begin the best-of-three series at Farrington Stadium on Friday at 5 p.m., followed by Saturday at 8 p.m., and a game-time to be determined on Sunday. Both games will be shown on ESPN. 

Reach the reporter at jenna.ortiz@arizonarepublic.com or 602-647-4122. Follow her on Twitter @jennarortiz

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