“Don’t lose faith in us.”
That was the plea from Arizona State‘s softball coach, Trish Ford, who explained in an Arizona Republic article last week that the offense will come back to life soon and the Sun Devils will move past a six-game losing streak and get back on the winning track again.
That request got a little harder to swallow after three more losses over the weekend.
The part that makes it so difficult to understand is the fact that the Sun Devils, ranked No. 18 in the nation when the losing streak began, seemed to fall into a black hole. By the time they got to Washington, they had dropped to No. 24. And when this week’s national rankings are posted, ASU fans likely won’t find their Sun Devils in the top 25.
Here’s how bad it was: For the last five of those first six games of the streak, ASU had just 11 total hits and were shut out for 30 consecutive innings.
They came back to life in the sixth game, posting five runs on seven hits against top-ranked UCLA. But the end result was the same, another loss. The Bruins jumped out to an 11-0 lead and coasted to the 16-5 victory.
Over the weekend, the Devils tried once again to break out of the slump, but dropped a three-game series to No. 4 Washington.
OK, so these are some of the best teams in the country. University of Arizona, which started the ASU losing streak by sweeping the series in Tucson, is ranked No. 6, so that means the Devils faced three top-10 teams, one after the other.
But that’s the kind of competition the Devils will face in the postseason, when it really counts.
This team has shown it can be an offensive force. They entered the Washington series as the No. 2 team in the nation in scoring. And against conference foe Utah, which the Devils beat three straight times before the losing streak began, the Devils pounded out 40 hits over the three-game home series. In one game alone, they included five home runs among the 15 hits they piled up.
The difference? Pitching. On both sides.
ASU has to show it can handle opposing pitchers at the more elite programs. Utah (13-17) doesn’t have the kind of talent in the circle as the teams the Sun Devils will meet in their quest to get back to the Women’s College World Series (WCWS). Arizona, UCLA, and Washington have some of the best pitchers in the country — and the Sun Devil batters struggled against them.
At the same time, ASU’s pitching staff needs to elevate its game. Sun Devil pitchers, a combination of two transfers (juniors Cielo Meza and Samantha Mejia) and a couple of freshmen (Abby Andersen and Mikayla Santa Cruz), are a combined 4.93 ERA. Coach Ford is breaking in an entirely new pitching staff this season. Both freshmen are local products, with Andersen graduating from Hamilton High School in Chandler, and Santa Cruz from Canyon del Oro HS in Tucson.
The one pitcher that would have returned from the 2018 roster, Giselle Juarez, transferred after last season to Oklahoma. Juarez teamed with Breanna Macha, who graduated, to create one of the top pitching duos in the nation during the 2018 season.
ASU was also hurt by another transfer when Danielle Gibson left for Arkansas. Gibson was the team leader in home runs last season, second in slugging percentage, and third in batting average. Ford, who is in her third season directing the program, lost six players to graduation.
The Sun Devils got off to a good start this season, winning 10 of their first 12 games, but began struggling once they got into the meat of the Pac-12 schedule. Their inability to hang with the cream of the conference doesn’t bode well for a team that made it to the WCWS last season for the first time in five years, and was expected to return to Oklahoma City again this year.
But they’re going to have to up their game before postseason play begins.
And that’s just four weeks and nine games away.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)