Ford, Sun Devils Look to Return to WCWS

TEMPE, Ariz. – The outfield wall of Farrington Stadium, where the sun always seems to shine, tells the story of a long history of success for Arizona State softball. 

And it’s an impressive story.

The Sun Devils’ 16 trips to the Women’s College World Series are emblazoned on the right field wall. Across the spacious outfield, the left field wall commemorates AIAW titles of 1972 and 1973, along with the NCAA crowns of 2008 and 2011.

ASU coach Trisha Ford is hoping to end that title drought in June with her Sun Devils hoisting the coveted trophy on the field at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla.

The team that takes the field for Ford when the Sun Devils open the new season will be a mix of old and new, something that excites the ASU mentor, who is entering her sixth season in the Valley of the Sun.

Arizona State, which is ranked No. 21 in the NFCA preseason poll, is scheduled to open the season Feb. 10 with the annual Kajikawa Classic at Farrington Stadium. The Sun Devils will play California Baptist and third-ranked Oklahoma State on the first day. They are also slated to play Utah, Missouri State and Duke before ending the tournament with a rematch against Missouri State.

The Sun Devils are one of five PAC 12 schools to be ranked in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) preseason poll. 

UCLA (third), Washington (seventh) and Arizona (ninth), along with Oregon (18th) are all ranked ahead of the Sun Devils. Defending national champion Oklahoma topped the preseason poll. Oklahoma State, which will face ASU in the Kajikawa Classic, is ranked fifth heading into the new season.

Major news was also released from the PAC 12 office recently that the league will begin sponsoring a conference softball tournament beginning in 2023. 

 “We will look different as we will have two new faces in the circle,” said Ford, whose team finished 33-16 last season, “but, we are who we are … and that’s a team that drives the ball.”

Lindsay Lopez and Allison Royalty are expected log the bulk of the innings in the circle for Ford and the Sun Devils this season after providing a solid 1-2 punch last season.

Lopez, a junior this season, finished with a 16-7 record last season after starting 33 games (19 CG) in the circle and ended the year with a 2.88 ERA after tossing 136.1 innings on the season. Lopez allowed 153 hits and 70 runs while striking out 93 batters.

Royalty, meanwhile, compiled an 11-6 record and posted a 3.27 ERA on the year. She shared the team-lead with Lopez with 19 complete games after starting 32 contests. She ended with 124.2 innings pitched and allowed 101 hits and 65 runs. Her 121 strikeouts allowed her to become the fastest freshman at ASU to strike out at least 100 batters since Dallas Escobedo in 2011.

Marrissa Schuld and Mac Morgan will be the two new faces in the circle for the Sun Devils and both bring a wealth of credentials to the ASU program, according to Ford.

Schuld, who transferred from rival Arizona, had to sit out last season due to PAC 12 rules governing in-conference transfers. Ford said the new Sun Devil has a talent for keeping opposing batters off stride.

“Having two quality players who are capable of taking some of the load off (Lopez, Royalty) is going to give us some great depth and is going to be 

The task of handling that circle that is loaded with talent for ASU is expected to fall squarely on the shoulders and voice of graduate transfer catcher Jessica Puk, who started all 58 games last season at Ole Miss before transferring to Arizona State.

“She is a vocal leader and has the ability to managing pitchers,” said Ford of the new Sun Devil behind the plate. “She really understands the game and she really gets what we are trying to do at all times.”

Puk, who committed just one error in 134 chances (.993 fielding percentage) last season on defense, batted .252 last season for the Rebels and led the team 34 runs scored while tallying 32 RBI on the season. She had 14 extra-base hits on eight doubles and six home runs while also drawing 29 walks on the season. Her six sacrifice flies ranked second in the Southeaster Conference and was third in the nation last season.

A versatile player, Puk is also expected to see some time at other positions for the Sun Devils this season. She started all 61 games for Ole Miss in 2019, primarily at second base, and has started 147 straight games since the start of the 2019 season. She appeared in 42 games (8 starts) in her first collegiate season.

The most experienced area on the field for the Sun Devils will be the positions that bookend the history of what is one of the most successful programs in NCAA softball history.

Yanirra Acuna, Jazmine Hill and Makenna Harper are expected to be roaming the outfield for the season opener against the Lancers and Ford anticipates that trio will man the 2-5 holes in the ASU offensive attack. All three batted at least .311 last season, just three of seven Sun Devils to bat at least .301 last season, and all three are expected to see those averages rise even more with the added year of collegiate experience to their credit.

Hill, the team’s centerfielder, started all 49 games last season and batted .347 on the year to rank second in the team in batting. She had 52 hits in 150 at-bats and finished the year with team-high 14 doubles while finishing tied with two other players for third on the team with 10 home runs. She also finished second on the team with 43 runs scored. Her 40 RBI was also second on the team. A stellar defensive player, she committed just one error on the season and finished second on the team with a .979 fielding percentage. 

“She is a dynamic athlete,” Ford said of her centerfielder.

Harper, who plays on the other side of the outfield, finished close behind Hill in virtually every statistical category. She started 47 of ASU’s 48 contests and had 41 hits in 120 at-bats for a .342 average. She had four doubles and matched Hill with 10 home runs and driving in 34 runs while scoring 31 times on the season for the Sun Devils. Another steady player in the outfield, Harper finished with a .963 fielding average while committing just two miscues on the year.

Acuna, the center fielder, finished with a .311 batting average in 2021. She appeared in 36 games (26 starts) and had 23 hits in 74 at-bats. She had six doubles, seven homers and 15 RBI for the Sun Devils

The look of the Sun Devils across the infield is expected to be familiar with the return of Bella Loomis, who is a redshirt senior this season, but also young as Ford entered the season looking to replace a number of players along that area of the field.

Loomis started 48 games last season and collected 34 hits on 113 at-bats and finished the year with a .301 batting average. She had five home runs to go along with her three triples on the season while driving in 34 runs.