ASU softball bringing hot bats to go with pitching talent

The Arizona State softball team knew it needed a strong pitching effort to be able to return to the Women’s College World Series after missing the trip last year.

With the addition of Dallas Escobedo, the outstanding freshman from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, ASU has arguably the deepest pitching staff in the Pac-10, and perhaps the country.

But, based on early results, the Sun Devils (9-1) have an offense that is every bit effective as their mound talent.  They walked away from last week’s Littlewood Classic undefeated and scored a combined 52 runs in four games.

None of those four games went the full seven innings, as lopsided scores caused each to be shortened to five frames by the run-rule.

The final game, against Seattle University, is a good example of how the tournament went.  Katelyn Boyd, the junior infielder from Horizon High School in Scottsdale, led off with a home run.  Christina Zambrana parked another for three more runs, and Lacy Goodman, the senior catcher from Red Mountain High School in Mesa, added one more to put Seattle away early, 13-2.

Boyd went five-for-five in that game as ASU piled up 15 hits.

But the Sun Devils are also deep in pitching talent, with three hurlers each capable of carrying the team to Oklahoma City for another shot at a national title.

Escobedo was the Gatorade Arizona Softball Player of the Year last year as a senior at St. Mary’s, and then added experience at the national level by pitching for the USA Softball Junior Women’s Team at the 2010 Pan American Championships.

She joins Hillary Bach, the most experienced pitcher on the ASU staff, who took the team to the Women’s College World Series (WCWS) in 2009 and finished last season with an impressive 25-8 record.

Bach pitched the Devils to their fifth straight NCAA Super Regional last year, but the Devils, seeded 13th, lost two straight to the Florida Gators and missed a chance to go to the big dance.

The third head of this pitching monster this year is MacKenzie Popescue, a local product from Chaparral High School in Scottsdale who redshirted last year due to an injury.  The 5’6″ freshman was a four-time All-State selection at Chaparral and All-City Player of the Year in 2008 and 2009.

The only downside to this trio is that all are right-handers.  But head coach, Clint Myers feels that, even without a southpaw to call in from the bullpen, these three will give him enough variety to match up against most teams.

They’ll get that chance tonight when ASU hosts a Big Ten team.

Michigan State rolls into Tempe to test the No. 8 (ESPN/USA Softball) Sun Devils, also coming off a successful tournament run.  The Spartans went 4-1 at the Homewood Suites/Hilton Garden Inn FGCU Tournament.

The visitors from Lansing also boast a pretty decent young pitcher in Cassee Layne, who was named the Co-Big Ten Freshman of the Week for pitching two complete shutouts in the Homewood Suites tourney.

But MSU is 7-3 on the year and has not fared well against ranked opponents.  They dropped a doubleheader to then-No. 4 Tennessee a couple of weeks back, getting run-ruled by the Vols in 14-0 and 11-2 losses.

When the dust clears, this trip to Arizona for three more games against a ranked opponent may seem like deja vu for the Spartans.

The games have been moved up to Friday night and then two on Saturday, instead of playing the final game on Sunday.  A storm front that is moving into Arizona prompted the preemptive move by the ASU staff.

But it isn’t likely that the anticipated rain and cold temperatures would do much to cool off the red-hot Sun Devils.

And the Spartans likely aren’t up to the task either.

(Photo: ASU Athletics/Steve McLaughlin)