TEMPE – Five days ago at Jane Sanders Stadium in Eugene, Oregon, the Arizona State softball roster lined up on the third base line after pregame introductions. Nineteen Sun Devils barely stretched from home plate to third base, while 23 Ducks spilled over the first base bag into right field.
One team had won 16 straight games, determined to add one more on the muddy diamond. The other was doing everything in its power to avoid the sweep. Both were ranked among the top 15 teams in the country.
No. 11 ASU completed that sweep Sunday against the Ducks, supercharged by a third-inning grand slam from the bat of junior outfielder Jazmine Hill, and then kept the momentum going Thursday night at home. The Sun Devils beat Utah 10-9 in eight innings after Hill worked her magic again, hitting a blooper into right center with the bases loaded to secure ASU’s 18th straight win of the season.
Arizona State sits atop the Pac-12 standings, with a 10-0 start in conference play. ASU’s roster in 2021 consisted of 25 players, but due to an offseason purge of transfers, a larger graduating class and an incoming class of just three freshmen, the number dwindled to just 19 in 2022, one of the smallest in the Pac-12.
The streak began 40 days ago, as the team bounced back from a poor 4-0 loss to unranked Loyola Marymount at the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, California, to beat Texas A&M 7-0. Since then, no team has been able to slow the Sun Devils, whose recent play was foreshadowed by their coach in February and backs up her preseason prediction.
“This year we feel very comfortable,” Trisha Ford said at media day. “We are at peace with who we are and what we represent both on and off the field. … I think with this year’s freshman class and our seniors we are going to see some very special things out here at Farrington Stadium.”
Special is an understatement, as the Sun Devils are on their longest win streak since the 2011 ASU squad won 23 in a row on its way to the national championship in Oklahoma City. The team is off to its best start in conference play since 2008.
A major key to the team’s success is its mentality. Previous ASU teams displayed huge emotional swings, from overly positive to excessively negative depending on their season results. The 2022 roster is about as even-keeled as they come.
“I don’t know if there’s a limit (to how far we can go) with the right mindset we have,” senior outfielder Yanni Acuña said. “We all have each other’s backs. … We aren’t too positive, we aren’t too negative. We are present in the moment, and we are all locked in.”
“No one can stop us but us,” junior shortstop Alynah Torres added. “We have a chip on our shoulder because (we are the ones people want to beat). … At the end of the day we are the only ones who can stop ourselves.”
The Pac-12’s Player of the Week in the final week of March, Acuña hit .750 against her hometown team, the Arizona Wildcats, in ASU’s first sweep of Arizona since 2012. The senior, who has been on a steady climb in hitting statistics in her four years in maroon and gold, currently leads the Pac-12 in batting average, on-base percentage and runs scored, while ranking in the top three in nearly every other offensive category.
Torres has gotten on base in 14 consecutive games, the longest active streak of any Sun Devils player on the roster. Originally a player who provided power in the middle of the ASU lineup, Torres now sets the tone with her ability to get on base, leading off the ASU batting order.
ASU currently ranks fifth in the country for team batting average and scoring, as well as second in slugging percentage and on-base percentage. The only top 15 team ranked higher than the Sun Devils in all four of those categories is undefeated softball superpower No. 1 Oklahoma.
Another major contributor to ASU’s offensive success is hotshot first baseman Cydney Sanders, the strongest freshman bat in the Pac-12. The patient, calculating newcomer is tied for the conference lead in walks, while ranking third in slugging percentage, on-base percentage and RBI.
“We have conversations when we don’t get on base about how we will get to the pitcher the next time up,” Acuña said about her relationship with Sanders. “We play film throughout the week and take note of what opposing pitchers are doing and we like to try and keep it simple. We are going to see the ball and we are going to hit it. She is so good because she keeps it so simple, there’s not much to it.”
Hill, who propelled ASU to victory on Sunday for the sweep against Oregon, earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors after collecting three home runs and seven RBIs. In Saturday night’s win over the Ducks, Hill hit her first career two-home run game, going three for four with three RBIs. Sunday’s grand slam was the first of her career as well, the third grand slam hit by the Sun Devils during the win streak.
“Having intent during the week makes a difference,” Hill said. “We’ve been taking everything seriously and have been focusing on our mechanics, the little things… Our team has really come together and it’s super exciting seeing that click that we’ve been looking for.”
Arizona State plays the second game in a three-game set tonight against the Utah Utes at Farrington Stadium.