TEMPE – The last time Arizona State’s softball team was prepared to take the field, the Sun Devils were on a bus traveling to Los Angeles to face UCLA at the Bruins’ Easton Stadium in a Pac-12 Conference opener.
They never got there.
En route, the 22-7 Sun Devils, who were ranked 15th nationally in a March 8 USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll, learned that Pac-12 officials had halted the season due to COVID-19. They returned to Tempe and didn’t play another game in 2020.
Now, six seniors, including center fielder Kindra Hackbarth who was named to D1Softball.com’s preseason All-America team, are ready to run it back in 2021 and chase the goals they left on that bus last year.
Hackbarth was having a monster season before the pandemic ended it. She led the Pac-12 with 39 hits, and her 11 doubles ranked second in the league. She also ranked second in doubles and already had belted six home runs.
But for Hackbarth, there is much more to accomplish.
“I did know right away that I wanted to come back and play softball,” she said. “It was just whether or not COVID would allow us to do that. I’m really excited to finish because we didn’t get to last year. It’s kind of nice to be able to finish with Bella (Loomis), my twin sister (Maddi Hackbarth), my whole class, and with the seniors this year as well.”
The Sun Devils have 52 games on the schedule, with 30 slated at home. They open the campaign by hosting Brigham Young in a Thursday doubleheader in the Kajikawa Classic, an annual tournament held at ASU’s Alberta B. Farrington Stadium.
Shortstop Alynah Torres, ranked by Softball America as the sixth best sophomore in the nation, is eager to play Pac-12 games after missing the opportunity as a freshman. She said senior leadership will help her remain even-keeled emotionally as the team gears up to play for the first time in nearly a year.
“Having the seniors back is going to help the team tremendously because they have experience in conference play and in the College World Series,” Torres said. “We want to play, and we’re here to win.”
The preseason accolades are piling up for the Sun Devils. Softball America lists ASU as a “Top 3 Lineup To Watch,” and it is listed among the Top 25 in every preseason softball ranking.
Kindra Hackbarth leads the charge. She was named a top-three outfielder in the country by Softball America and is on the USA Softball Watchlist for national player of the year.
“I feel like it’s a lot of pressure, but I kind of like pressure,” she said. “It’s a good feeling knowing that people see my ability for the future just because it’s been so long since we have played.”
Torres also seemed immune to pressure as a freshman, winning the starting shortstop job and playing in every game for ASU in 2020. Her numbers were among the best in the conference with a .395 batting average and nine home runs, which tied senior Maddi Hackbarth for the team lead.
There were stretches where Torres thought she was inconsistent at the plate, but she went to work on that after the season’s premature ending.
“I felt like the jump from high school to college wasn’t too difficult for me because my travel coach prepared me for the daily grind,” Torres said. “The biggest challenge for me was consistency, but I’ve spent all offseason working on the minor holes in my game.”
Jazmine Hill joins Torres in the Softball America Top 25 sophomore rankings, coming in at No. 16. The young outfielder is confident that she will take a step forward as a difference maker in the program, emphasizing her ability to hit the ball out of the yard.
“It puts me in a good spot for where my head should be for the season,” Hill said of the ranking. “I have a lot of expectations and people are going to expect a lot out of me. Heck, I expect a lot out of me. So I have to make sure that I have a good season.”
In USA Today’s Division 1 softball rankings, coach Trisha Ford’s team is 16th and fourth among Pac-12 teams, behind top-ranked UCLA, No. 3 Arizona and No. 10 Oregon.
Last year’s abbreviated season left the Sun Devils hopeful for another opportunity, especially the team’s seniors, who missed an opportunity to compete in the conference and pass the torch to the team’s future leaders like Torres and Hill.
“I’m looking to pass down my role to someone else on the team,” Kindra said. “It’s nice to be able to finish with my whole class this year, and I’m excited to play with the young players who have so much talent. I can’t wait for this season to start and to compete against other teams.”