This is a do-over season for Trisha Ford, who debuted last year as the new head softball coach at Arizona State University.
A chance to show that her first season, which ended in a disappointing 9-15 Pac-12 record and a sixth-place conference finish. wasn’t going to be an indicator of what she will be able to accomplish with the storied program.
And she’s making the most of the opportunity.
The Sun Devils have 24 games left to play in the regular season and are already just four wins away from last year’s total. They’re 27-4 going into Friday’s game against North Dakota State. Last year, they finished 31-22.
Probably the most impressive part of the season so far is the way they started Pac-12 play. Over the three-game series at Farrington Stadium in Tempe, the Devils posted two shutouts to clinch a series win over the No. 1 team in the nation, the Washington Huskies.
Those two ASU wins eight days ago are the only losses for the Huskies over 34 games so far this season. They helped propel the Sun Devils to their current No. 8 position in the USA Today/Coaches poll, and No. 6 in the RPI rankings.
ASU sandwiched a 7-0 Sunday loss to the Huskies with 2-0 victories in the Saturday opener and the Monday finale.
The two wins were mirror images of each other. Not only did the Devils post identical scores, but they used the same approach, jumping out to take an early lead and then holding it the rest of the way. And it was the same player called upon to plate the two runs each time.
In the opener, freshman first baseman Danielle Gibson smacked an RBI double to score both runs in the bottom of the first inning. She repeated the performance in the finale, this time slashing a line drive down the right-field line to bring in the game’s only two runs.
And Giselle “G” Juarez, the sophomore lefty from Glendale’s Mountain Ridge High School, made sure those two runs each inning turned into two victories. In the opener, she struck out 11 would-be hitters, the eighth time this season she has fanned double-digit batters. In the finale, the 6-footer was throwing a near-perfect game going into the sixth inning, finishing up with eight strike-outs and holding the Huskies to three hits in seven innings.
Juarez, who led Mountain Ridge to consecutive state championship game appearances in 2014 and 2015 and posted a 1.74 ERA for her prep career, has earned back-to-back honors as the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week this season.
ASU followed the performance against top-ranked Washington by sweeping a three-game series from No. 20 California last weekend. The second game of that road series went 10 innings before the Devils pulled out the 3-1 victory — and Juarez was back at work, striking out 17.
That win over Cal marked No. 200 for Ford, who took over the ASU program in June of 2016 after four years as the Fresno State head coach.
She took over the Fresno State program from the school’s all-time winningest coach, Margie Wright, who had won a national championship and 17 conference titles. But Ford was up to the task of replacing a legend, winning 67 percent of the games in her four years, posting 40-win records each of her last two years, and closing her time with the Bulldogs by winning the Western Athletic Conference title and earning WAC Coach of the Year.
Now she has replaced Clint Myers in Tempe, the ASU head coach who won two national titles in eight years before leaving to take over the Auburn program.
Expectations for a program like ASU’s, which owns four national titles, are high and involve frequent trips to the Women’s College World Series. But the Sun Devils have failed to get past the regionals the last four years, including Ford’s inability to get last year’s team past Ole Miss and North Carolina in the Mississippi Regional, keeping them from reaching the program’s first super regional appearance since 2013, Myers’ final season.
So this year isn’t about posting 50 wins. Or about winning the conference. Or even winning a regional.
It’s about getting past the regionals, winning the super regional, and getting to the WCWS. That’s the minimum criteria for a softball coach at ASU.
Right now, Ford appears to have this team on that road, with the talent necessary to take it all the way to Oklahoma City.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)