Friday: Ducks vs ASU - 5:00 pm - ESPN2
Saturday: Ducks vs ASU - 6:00 pm - Pac-12 Networks
Sunday: Ducks vs ASU - Noon - ESPNews
After a disappointing, if not wholly surprising, weekend in Los Angeles against the Pac-12’s top team, the Ducks now return home to play the Pac-12’s second-best team - at least based on Conference records thus far. It’s hard to avoid – some of the best college softball in the country has been played in the Pac-10/-12 over the past couple of decades. Despite other schools developing the kind of pedigree of excellence in softball that has long been the Conference of Champions’ calling card (think Oklahoma, Michigan, Florida and even Alabama), the Pac-12 has still won 24 of the 38 NCAA Division I Women’s College World Series and have been competitive in most they haven’t won. It’s simply not possible to play a Pac-12 softball schedule without running up against several outstanding opponents. Nevertheless, UCLA outscored Oregon only 12 – 5 and the games were all reasonably competitive - a couple of well-timed hits could have carved out an Oregon win in any of these games. The Ducks simply never got going offensively against the Bruins excellent pitching. Whether Oregon suffers a lack-of-confidence hangover from the UCLA series is an open question. There’s no reason they should – the team has proven repeatedly this season it can score runs, sometimes lots of runs.
Prior to last weekend, Oregon was ranked #11 nationally and appeared in a position to make a bid for a place among the 2022 softball elite. Sitting at 24 – 8 after the UCLA sweep, that is certainly still possible, but Oregon - now #15 - may have lost all the Conference games it can afford. At 4 – 5 and in 5th place in the Conference, the Ducks have failed to earn a sweep of their own in their Pac-12 series this season. It’s hard to imagine the Bruins losing 6 Conference games over the remainder of the season, so a Conference title is now out of reach. An Oregon sweep this weekend over #13 Arizona State would be an excellent beginning for a climb toward the top part of the Conference.
Arizona State comes into the Oregon series having had a week off. The Sun Devils are 25 – 5 overall and 6 – 0 in Conference play. They most recently swept in-state rival Arizona in Tucson, including winning two games under run-rule in the 5th inning. ASU outscored the Wildcats 28 – 2. Their other Conference series was a sweep of Oregon State in Tempe – 2 of those 3 games were close. ASU’s season includes a 2 – 0 win over Texas in Austin and a 7 – 0 win over Texas A&M at the Judi Garmin Classic in Fullerton, California, where the team went 4 – 1 overall with a loss to Loyola Marymount. ASU also lost to Texas State - a team Oregon beat 7 - 2 - and also Oklahoma State and Missouri State in the first tournament of the season.
The Sun Devils bring what can be a potent offense to Eugene. The team boasts 7 regular players who hit over .300, with 2 hitting above .400. Senior outfielder Yannira Acuna has appeared in every game and leads ASU, hitting .494. She is joined in the rarified air above .400 by Freshman infielder Cydney Sanders who is hitting .467. Sanders and Junior Jazmyn Rollin have each hit 10 home runs. Sanders has 35 RBI in just 75 at bats, and Acuna has added 29. Rollin and Junior Jazmine Hill have 26 and 25 RBI respectively. These four players have driven in more than half of ASU’s 208 runs on the season. Acuna and Sanders also have very high on-base percentages, clocking in close to or over 60 percent. Generally speaking, ASU is not an aggressive running team, having attempted only 24 steals in their 30 games and being successful on 19.
ASU’s pitching and defense have been excellent, allowing opponents only 2 runs per game on average, despite a slightly higher error rate than Oregon. Acuna and Freshman infielder Kristiana Watson – who plays in about half the games – have yet to make an error this season. The Sun Devils have used 3 pitchers in starting roles and rotated those 3 also primarily in relief. Senior Marissa Schuld leads the staff with a record of 8 wins against 2 losses and an ERA of just 1.13. She has started 9 games and pitched 55.2 innings. Schuld has struck out 77 batters while walking only 6. Freshman Mac Morgan also has 9 starts, a gaudy 12 – 1 record and 1.54 ERA. She has pitched the most innings on staff with 59 and has struck out 40 and walked 13. Junior Lindsay Lopez rounds out the pitchers Oregon is most likely to see over the weekend. She has started 7 games, compiling a 4 – 1 record and a 1.38 ERA in 50.2 innings. She has 46 strikeouts and just 6 walks. Sophomore Allison Royalty has the remaining 5 starts for ASU and is 1 – 1 with a 6.05 ERA. The Ducks are likely to only see Royalty in a relief role, if at all.
This is the second series in a row in which Oregon will face a very good pitching staff. The Ducks are not likely to get any gifts through bases-on-balls from the ASU staff and is going to have to be ready to jump on hittable pitches when they appear. Oregon will need to return to its hot hitting of earlier in the season to win games against the Sun Devils.
Join ATQ as we follow this pivotal mid-season series.