One thing we've learned about each Pac-12 softball team in the nonconference season
The Pac-12 has enjoyed a strong start to the college softball season, with its teams posting a combined 171-47 record as conference play begins this weekend. Five of the Pac-12's nine programs are ranked in the NFCA Coaches Poll, while two others are receiving votes.
Here's one thing we've learned about each squad.
No. 9 Arizona (19-4) — Pitching is still the big question mark
Despite having a revamped lineup and reigning Pac-12 batting champion Janelle Meoño missing some time with an injury, the Wildcats lead the conference in batting average and still hit for power like usual under new head coach Caitlin Lowe. Carlie Scupin (.500 AVG, 11 homers), Allie Skaggs (.415 AVG, 8 HR) and Jasmine Perezchica (.479 AVG) are surging in their sophomore seasons while redshirt junior Izzy Pacho (4 HR, .452 AVG) is enjoying a breakout year.
But if Arizona is going to make its third straight trip to the Women's College World Series, it will have to find some solutions in the circle. The innings have mostly been split between Devyn Netz (1.43 ERA), Hanah Bowen (2.65 ERA) and Madi Elish (2.71) with Jessie Fontes (2.84 ERA) making an appearance every now and then.
The Wildcats are sixth in the Pac-12 in ERA and have allowed 9.3 runs per game in their three games against ranked teams, a number that will have to come down considerably given the number of high-quality lineups they will face during the conference season, starting with UCLA in their opening series.
No. 22 Arizona State (19-5) — The pitching is better and deeper
The Sun Devils relied almost exclusively on Allison Royalty and Lindsey Lopez in the circle last season and that high usage caught up to them in the postseason. This year, they have much more firepower with Arizona transfer Marissa Schuld and freshman Mac Morgan joining the mix.
Morgan actually leads ASU in innings (44.2) while posting a superb 1.10 ERA. Schuld isn't too far behind, logging a 1.50 ERA in 36.2 innings. Lopez seems to be benefitting from this setup, posting a career-best 1.02 ERA in 41 innings.
The Sun Devils are tied for third in the Pac-12 in homers, so if their pitching holds up, they will be a dangerous team in conference play. Senior outfielder Yannira Acuña .(492 AVG, 8 HR) has been one of the most improved players in the conference and freshman first baseman Cydney Sanders (.466 AVG, 7 HR) has been one of the top newcomers.
California (18-8) — The Bears are young but dangerous
The Golden Bears are one of the youngest teams in the conference, void of any seniors. Don't take them lightly.
Junior catcher Makena Smith (.491 AVG, 7 HR), sophomore outfielder Kacey Zobac (.397 AVG, 4 HR) and sophomore two-way player Sona Halajian (.419, 7 HR) give Cal plenty of pop, while sophomore shortstop Tatum Anzaldo (.418 AVG, 3 HR, 6 SB) and freshman second baseman Acacia Anders (.296 AVG, 3 HR) have done a nice job setting the table at the top of the lineup.
The Bears' top three pitchers are underclassmen, too, though the team's collective 2.42 ERA certainly leaves room for improvement.
It will be fun to watch them grow over the course of the season and the next few years.
No. 11 Oregon (19-3) — The offense hasn't missed a beat
The Ducks lost their leading hitter (Haley Cruse) and home-run hitter (Alyssa Brito) from last season, but the offense hasn't missed a beat. In fact, it's better so far. Oregon's batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage have improved across the board.
Hanna Delgado (.452 AVG), Allee Bunker (.413 AVG, 5 HR), Vallery Wong (.392 AVG, 7 HR) and Ariel Carlson (8 HR) have made strides since last season and Cal State Fullerton transfer KK Humphreys has been a nice boost to the infield, hitting .373 with four homers.
The offense's production has been especially critical since the Ducks have been without ace Brooke Yanez. The fifth-year senior recently announced that she is out for the season as she recovers from an injury. Freshman Stevie Hansen (1.52 ERA) has been a much-needed addition to the rotation.
RV Oregon State (22-4) — Mazon and Hammoude are getting more help
Mariah Mazon and Frankie Hammoude continue to be two of the top talents in the conference, with Mazon currently sporting a stellar 0.80 ERA while hitting .370 with five homers and Hammoude logging nine homers and a gaudy .468 batting average.
What is different about this OSU squad is that it appears to have much more depth beyond that duo.
Sophomore Tarni Stepto and freshman Sarah Haendiges have been terrific in the circle so far, posting ERAs of 1.48 and 0.94, respectively.
Stepto, who pitched for Australia in the Tokyo Olympics last summer, has swing-and-miss stuff, compiling 86 strikeouts in just 56 innings. Altogether, the Beavers have a 1.06 ERA, the best in the conference and second-best in the country.
Their success has taken a huge weight off Mazon's shoulders. She accounted for nearly two-thirds of OSU's innings last season. This year? Only 40 percent.
Offensively, freshmen Kiki Escobar (.386 AVG), Kaylah Nelson (.338) and Eliana Gottlieb (.310, 4 HR) have emerged as key contributors, while sophomore Charity Sevaaetasi (4 HR) is already one long ball away from matching her career high.
Armed with wins over Baylor and Tennessee, the Beavs enter Pac-12 play in great position to earn an NCAA Tournament bid.
RV Stanford (18-4) — The Cardinal's pitching is elite, and not just because of Alana Vawter
It's no secret that Alana Vawter (10-2, 1.41 ERA) is one of the best pitchers in the country, but Regan Krause (1.09 ERA) and Molly Millar (1.59 ERA) are making a name for themselves too. All three were named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week on March 1 after they threw no-hitters in consecutive games.
The Cardinal's 1.37 ERA is third-best in the conference and eighth-best in the country. With that kind of pitching, Stanford can beat anyone. Proof: it split a two-game road series against then-No. 8 Oklahoma State when Vawter outdueled Miranda Elish, the 2020 Softball America National Player of the Year.
And while the Cardinal doesn’t hit for much power (18 homers), it does have an improved offense, featuring four batters who are hitting .360 or better — Taylor Gindlesperger (.481), Sydnee Huff (.400), Emily Young (.391) and Kaitlyn Lim (.367).
Safe to say the program is continuing its rise under head coach Jessica Allister.
No. 7 Washington (19-5) — The Huskies don't rebuild, they reload
UW graduated two stalwarts in Sis Bates and Morganne Flores. Thankfully it has plenty of fresh faces to replace them.
Catcher Olivia Johnson and shortstop Kinsey Fiedler, both highly-ranked recruits, each have five homers and a Pac-12 Freshman of the Week award to their name this season.
Add those two to a veteran core that still includes Sami Reynolds, Baylee Klingler and Gabbie Plain, and the Huskies will be a force to be reckoned with this season and for many years to come.
While we're here, let's take a moment to appreciate Klingler's excellence. The senior infielder is hitting .461 with a league-high 12 homers, coming up clutch for the Huskies time and time again.
No. 4 UCLA (22-3) — Savannah Pola adds more length to a lethal lineup
The Bruins' lineup was already brimming with talent and experience. Now they have the early frontrunner for Pac-12 Freshman of the Year, too. Savannah Pola is hitting .408 with four homers, 11 doubles and 29 RBI, the fourth-most in the conference.
Unsurprisingly, the Bruins lead the Pac-12 in scoring. Combine that with a pitching staff that features Pac-12 strikeouts leader Megan Faraimo (129) and two of the top three ERA leaders — Lauren Shaw (0.50) and Holly Azevedo (1.08) — and they clearly have what it takes to make another trip to the Women's College World Series.
Utah (15-11) — Sandez and Lopez have made strides in the circle
The Utes have managed to lower their team ERA from 6.44 last season to 3.98 this year. Sydney Sandez (2.68 ERA) and Mariah Lopez (2.93) have both taken a step forward, each trimming their ERAs by more than three runs.
If that trend continues, Utah should be much more competitive in conference play than it was last season when it went 3-21.
The Utes sure can swing the bat—especially Ellessa Bonstrom (.493 AVG, 6 HR), Sophie Jacquez (.382 AVG) and Haley Denning (.354 AVG, 13 SB).