ASU, UA softball get early respect with high nat’l rankings

It’s almost like a year hasn’t gone by.  The Arizona and Arizona State softball teams are picking up right where they left off last year as both get ready to begin the 2013 season with high national rankings.

The Top 25 pre-season polls for 2013 were just released, and ASU finds itself with a No. 4 national ranking and Arizona will start the season at No. 13.

Last year, both teams won at regionals played on their home fields.  But Arizona got bumped from the Super Regionals by Oklahoma, while the Sun Devils overcame an opening-game loss to Louisiana-Lafayette in their Super Regional and came back to win a double header to earn their 10th trip to the Women’s College World Series.

But Oklahoma proved to be their downfall as well, beating the Devils and thus denying them a shot at a second straight national championship.

When the dust settled after the final game was played, Arizona State was ranked No. 3 and Arizona No. 13.  Almost exactly where they will begin 2013.

Now they’re both starting over on that long road to Oklahoma City where the WCWS awaits the best college teams in the country.  Right now, both Arizona squads fit that description.

Both have seasoned talent, returning pitching staffs, and power at the plate.

ASU is perhaps a little more comfortable with its early ranking since the Devils have begun the season ranked in the top 10 for six of the last eight years and the top 25 for 16 of the last 18 years.  Last season was the first time the Devils started the season in the No. 1 position.

The Sun Devils finished last season with a 53-11 record, while the Cats finished up 38-19 – which was a sub-par showing for the Arizona program.  The 19 losses were the most since 1983 and it was the first time since 1986 that they failed to get 40 wins.

When you play in the Pac-12, you are assured of getting to face some of the best teams in the country.  This year, seven of the top 25 pre-season picks hail from the Pac-12.  Three of the top five are Pac-12 teams: California (No. 3), ASU (No. 4), and Oregon (No. 5).

The Sun Devils will enjoy home-field advantage for the first 27 games of the season, opening against New Mexico on Feb. 7 in the Kajikawa Classic.  There are a total of 39 home games on the ASU schedule and five of those teams arriving in Tempe are on the pre-season Top 25.

Arizona will face a total of 23 top-25 teams in their 56-game schedule, including a dozen in the top 10.

One benefit of snagging a high early ranking and including some of the nation’s top teams on your schedule: increased exposure.  Both Arizona and ASU have been put on the ESPN networks’ schedule for a couple of games apiece, just a game shy of UCLA, which will enjoy a conference-high three ESPN appearances.

Fans who want to get an up-close look at both teams without having to travel to both sites can get that opportunity when Arizona travels to Tempe to take part in the annual Kajikawa Classic, which opens the season with a four-day tournament.

The two teams aren’t scheduled to meet at the Kajikawa, which ASU hosts, but they’ll both be there to get an early test against teams from around the country.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)