Arizona State softball may look like a different team after losing 11 players last season, including fifth-year stalwarts Maddi and Kindra Hackbarth, but the young team isn’t considered a weakness by coach- sixth grade chef Trisha Ford.
The team will return nine starters to its roster of 19 and will also feature a young but experienced rotation.
“We just look different and that’s not a bad thing. I’m pretty excited about it. Our leadership has never been in a better position and our team is in a very good position on and off the pitch. Over the years we’ve gotten better and better every year and I’m really proud of where we are this year,” Ford said.
To fill the hole Maddi Hackbarth left at receiver, Ford brought in transfer graduate Jessica Puk from Ole Miss. Puk led Ole Miss in runs (34) and walks (29) last season.
Puk’s contributions on the pitch are matched by her contributions off the pitch, impressing both her teammates and the coaching staff. Ford wants Puk to be on the program for four years and said she’s been “wonderful” adjusting to her place.
“She slipped in here with no problem and the team loves her. She just loves life and has a good head on her shoulders and all of those characteristics make her a good catcher,” Ford said. know how to deal with different personalities, so don’t take it too seriously. She knows when to step on pitchers, she knows when to kind of shift their thought process. If you find someone who doesn’t like Jessica Puk, I probably already have a problem with this person.
Puk’s experience behind the plate will help promising staff pitchers, including second-year Allison Royalty and rookie Mac Morgan.
Royalty, a Pac-12 All-Freshman last season, is healthy after being sidelined with an injury late in the season and has added more shots to her repertoire this offseason. In his first season, Royalty had 19 starts in 32 games and went 11-6 with a 3.20 ERA, leading the pitching staff with 121 strikeouts.
Ford’s drive to start freshmen early in the season will continue as Morgan is expected to start early in the non-conference schedule that begins Thursday. Morgan, the 2019 Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year, adds even more competitive edge for an area on the field that Ford sees as a major strength.
“You will see his intensity on the pitch. She loves softball and she loves it from the bottom of her body. She comes out of that circle, she’s fierce, she’s not nice. She must win. Off the pitch, he’s a carefree person and it’s nice to see him come and go. She’s going to be baptized by fire and I think it’s good for them,” Ford said.
Ford has certainly challenged his pitching team throughout the preseason, even going so far as not handing out practice plans and getting his players used to playing situations and feeling uncomfortable.
Even with the challenges in training, the players don’t have a tense atmosphere on the pitch.
“We play better when we’re loose, so I just think we all have a lot of trust in each other. We know we can all do the job as a team. So just keeping a relaxed atmosphere and pushing things forward. things, but we don’t play like we have 20-pound plates on our shoulders,” said left fielder Makenna Harper.
The changes helped his team grow together and prepare to take on the top ten programs in the country in the first weeks of the season.
“They spend so much time together off the pitch that I feel like they trust each other in a way that we haven’t had here yet. That’s what’s going to make us a special team this year,” Ford said.
Expanding on offense, ASU fires heavy hitters Harper, Jazmine Hill and Yanni Acuña, in addition to bringing in Jazmyn Rollin. Rollin, a transfer from Mizzou, hit .364 with five doubles, one triple and seven limited-season homers in 2020.
Rollin is expected to start at second base with redshirt senior Halle Harger as a defensive replacement.
The longball came in handy for ASU last season as returners Harper and Hill were key parts of last year’s team which hit 95 homers, the most since 2013. Harper just completed a season where she hit .342 with 10 HRs and 34 RBI, while Hill hit .347 with 10 HRs and 40 RBI.
ASU softball opens its season Thursday with a doubleheader starting at 4 p.m. against Cal Baptist and against Oklahoma State at 6:30 p.m. from Farrington Field in the Kajikawa Classic.
“I’m super excited, I’m expecting big things for this team. We have a lot of young talent. I’m really excited for this year,” Harper said.
Subscribe to azcentral.com today.