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2020 Pac-12 Conference Preview

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(Photo by Shane Bevel/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

The Pac-12 finally got over the hurdle of its seven-year national title drought after UCLA’s championship last year. Can the conference do it again in 2020? The three Pac-12 WCWS participants from last season—Washington, UCLA and Arizona—all made Softball America’s top five in its preseason poll, along with Arizona State and Oregon rounding out the top 25.

Here’s how the Pac-12 shapes up in 2020.

No. 1 Washington

2019 Record: 52-9 (20-4 Pac-12)

Pac-12 Preseason Coaches Poll Rank: 1st

Last Postseason Appearance: 2019, WCWS (Finished 3rd/4th)

Key Roster Additions: INF Baylee Klingler, So. (Texas A&M), INF/RHP Kelley Lynch, Fr., OF Jadelyn Allchin, Fr., INF/RHP Brooke Nelson, Fr., OF Hannah Dardano, Fr.

Key Roster Departures: RHP Taran Alvelo (Graduation), OF Amirah Milloy (Graduation)

Top Returning Position Player: INF Sis Bates, Sr. (2019 Stats: .387 BA, .463 OBP, 60 runs, 30 RBI, 77 hits)

Top Returning Pitcher: LHP Gabbie Plain, Jr. (2019 Stats: 24-2, 1.24 ERA, 246 SO, 186 IP)

The Huskies look to have all the parts to finally bring home that second national title. Benefitting from UCLA losing players to the Olympics, Washington looks to be the favorite in the conference. Gabbie Plain will be alone in the spotlight with her partner-in-crime Taran Alvelo gone, but Plain won’t skip a beat. Already a two-time All-American, Plain has a chance to make her claim as the country’s best pitcher and lead Washington to a title.

The lineup again features Sis Bates and Morganne Flores as the contact and power duo. Outside of them, returners Taryn Atlee and Sami Reynolds, and newcomers Baylee Klingler and Kelley Lynch, who will also contribute in the circle, round out a lineup looking to improve after finishing fourth in scoring within the conference.

No. 3 UCLA

2019 Record: 56-6 (20-4 Pac-12)

Pac-12 Preseason Coaches Poll Rank: 2nd

Last Postseason Appearance: 2019, WCWS Champion

Key Roster Additions: C Jenavee Peres, Grad. (San Diego State), INF Delanie Wisz, Jr. (Loyola Marymount), INF Maya Brady, Fr., INF Seneca Curo, Fr., INF Alyssa Garcia, Fr., UTL/RHP Lexi Sosa, Fr.

Key Roster Departures: RHP/1B Rachel Garcia, R-Sr. (Olympic Duty), OF Bubba Nickles, Sr. (Olympic Duty), INF Taylor Pack (Graduation), C Paige Halstead (Graduation), C Colleen Sullivan (Texas)

Top Returning Position Player: OF Kelli Godin, So. (2019 Stats: .418 BA, .469 OBP, 56 hits, 45 runs, 23 SB)

Top Returning Pitcher: RHP Megan Faraimo, So. (2019 Stats: 16-4, 1.41 ERA, 143 SO, 114 IP)

The Bruins were on top of the softball world last season, but to get back to the peak they certainly have obstacles to overcome. It was going to be hard enough to deal with the game’s best player, Rachel Garcia, being gone this season, but then star outfielder Bubba Nickles also made the Olympic team with Garcia. UCLA already had to find a new catcher due to roster movement, so it hopes San Diego State transfer Jenavee Peres can fill that role.

Megan Faraimo will certainly have huge shoes to fill while Garcia is away, but probably no one will be surprised if she does. Fellow sophomore Kelli Godin looks to also make a leap in year two. And get to know the name Maya Brady—for more than her uncle being NFL legend Tom Brady—because she’ll make a big impact for the Bruins as a freshman.

No. 5 Arizona

2019 Record: 48-14 (19-5 Pac-12)

Pac-12 Preseason Coaches Poll Rank: 3rd

Last Postseason Appearance: 2019, WCWS (Finished 5th/6th)

Key Roster Additions: RHP Mariah Lopez, Sr. (Oklahoma), OF Isabella Dayton, Fr., OF Jenelle Meono, Fr., C Sharlize Palacios, Fr.

Key Roster Departures: LHP Taylor McQuillin (Graduation), C Dejah Mulipola (Olympic Duty), INF Riley Pierce (Graduation)

Top Returning Position Player: OF Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, R-Sr. (2019 Stats: .386 BA, .787 SLG, .477 OBP, 19 HR, 18 2B, 67 RBI)

Top Returning Pitcher: RHP Alyssa Denham, Sr. (2019 Stats: 13-6, 1.94 ERA, 112 SO, 108.1 IP)

Arizona finally broke its Women’s College World Series drought last year with one of the best offenses in the nation. Although, once the Wildcats got to Oklahoma City, the bats went a bit quiet. Arizona returns most of its star bats—Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, Jessie Harper and Reyna Carranco—apart from that of Dejah Mulipola, who will be with Team USA training for the Olympics.

With the offense most likely returning similar numbers as last season, it’s the performance in the circle that will determine if the Wildcats can bring home another title. Alyssa Denham and Oklahoma transfer Mariah Lopez are two proven pitchers who can be really good, but can they be elite? If one is able to make the jump, Arizona has a good shot to go further than last year.

No. 24 Arizona State

2019 Record: 35-20 (13-11 Pac-12)

Pac-12 Preseason Coaches Poll Rank: 4th

Last Postseason Appearance: 2019, Tuscaloosa Regional

Key Roster Additions: LHP Madison Preston, Jr. (Alabama), C Macy Simmons, Fr. INF Jazmine Hill, Fr., INF Alynah Torres, Fr.

Key Roster Departures: OF Morgan Howe (Graduation), OF Skylar McCarty (Graduation), SS Jade Gortarez (Left the Program)

Top Returning Position Player: OF Kindra Hackbarth, Sr. (2019 Stats: .412 BA, .841 SLG, .500 OBP, 17 HR, 18 2B, 67 runs)

Top Returning Pitcher: RHP Samantha Mejia, Sr. (2019 Stats: 16-10, 4.20 ERA, 95 SO, 128.1 IP)

Much like their rivals down south, the Sun Devils’ 2019 season was led by a potent offense. Kindra Hackbarth became the star of the lineup in her second season in Tempe. Arizona State will need to replace Morgan Howe and Jade Gortarez, who was announced to be leaving the program a week ago. Bella Loomis, DeNae Chatman and Maddi Hackbarth are the returners who will be asked to step up.

It’s the circle that has question marks still for the Sun Devils. After the transfer of Giselle “G” Juarez, ASU head coach Trisha Ford brought in transfers Cielo Meza and Samantha Mejia, but neither had the production Ford had hoped for in 2019. Ford appears to be playing the numbers game, as Meza, Mejia and Abby Andersen return to the circle paired with Alabama transfer Madison Preston and freshmen Lindsay Lopez and Morgan Leinstock all on the roster.

No. 25 Oregon

2019 Record: 22-30 (5-19 Pac-12)

Pac-12 Preseason Coaches Poll Rank: 5th

Last Postseason Appearance: 2018

Key Roster Additions: LHP Brooke Yanez, Jr. (UC Davis), RHP Samaria Diaz, Sr. (New Mexico State), INF Mya Felder, So. (New Mexico State), INF Ariel Carlson, Fr., RHP Makenna Kliethermes, Fr., OF Deijah Pangilinan, Fr.

Key Roster Departures: INF April Utecht (Graduation), OF Cherish Burks (Graduation)

Top Returning Position Player: INF Jasmine Sievers, So. (2019 Stats: .326 BA, .379 OBP, 22 RBI, 15 2B)

Top Returning Pitcher: LHP Jordan Dail, Jr. (2019 Stats: 18-18, 4.12 ERA, 240 SO, 248 IP)

Year two for Melyssa Lombardi in Eugene is already looking more promising than her first. Lombardi went and got Jordan Dail a squad to help her in the circle with transfers Brooke Yanez and Samaria Diaz, and talented freshman Makenna Kliethermes. Lombardi knows her pitching and it appears she has the weapons to make it work for the Ducks now.

The dancing queens, Jasmine Sievers and Haley Cruse, headline an Oregon lineup filled with returners. The Ducks are still looking for a big-time power bat as the only double-digit home run hitter from last season, April Utecht, is gone. Oregon is hoping Mya Felder (12 home runs last year), a New Mexico State transfer and the WAC Freshman of the Year, or freshman Ariel Carlson, can fill that role.

Stanford

2019 Record: 33-20 (8-13 Pac-12)

Pac-12 Preseason Coaches Poll Rank: 6th

Last Postseason Appearance: 2019, Gainesville Regional

Key Roster Additions: INF Sydney Steele, Fr., RHP Alana Vawter, Fr.

Key Roster Departures: RHP Carolyn Lee (Graduation)

Top Returning Position Player: OF Teaghan Cowles, Sr. (2019 Stats: .374 BA, 1.034 OPS, 5 3B, 65 hits)

Top Returning Pitcher: RHP Maddy Dwyer, Jr. (2019 Stats: 12-6, 3.15 ERA, 52 SO, 91 IP)

2019 Pac-12 Coach of the Year Jessica Allister put Stanford back into the postseason for the first time since 2013 in her second season as head coach. The Cardinal return nearly all of their lineup including all four All-Conference position player selections: Teaghan Cowles, Kristina Inouye, Emily Young and Emily Schultz.

The biggest question mark for Allister in 2020 is the pitching staff. Returners Maddy Dwyer and Kiana Pancino have had solid numbers in smaller sample sizes compared to Carolyn Lee’s 150-plus innings last season. With seven pitchers on the roster, one being highly-touted freshman Alana Vawter, someone will need to fill Lee’s shoes.

Oregon State

2019 Record: 26-19 (8-14 Pac-12)

Pac-12 Preseason Coaches Poll Rank: 7th

Last Postseason Appearance: 2018

Key Roster Additions: RHP Trystan Melancon, Grad, (Houston), C Val Pero, Fr.

Key Roster Departures: OF Shelby Weeks (Graduation), OF Jessica Garcia (Graduation), RHP Meehra Nelson (Graduation), INF Camryn Ybarra (Nebraska)

Top Returning Position Player: INF Frankie Hammoude, So. (2019 Stats: .283 BA, 1.001 OPS, .418 OBP, 11 HR, 36 RBI)

Top Returning Pitcher: RHP Mariah Mazon (2019 Stats: 17-12, 2.70 ERA, 166 SO, 174 IP)

For the first time since 2015, Laura Berg’s team missed the postseason last year. The difference for the Beavers was pitching, as the team ERA jumped from 2.85 to 3.53. Although none of the blame is on junior righty Mariah Mazon, who improved her ERA, strikeouts and batting average against to earn Pac-12 All-Conference Second Team honors in 2019.

The offense on a per-game basis produced about the same if not a tad bit better compared to the 2018 season. The Beavers are now tasked with replacing two outfield spots because of the graduation of Shelby Weeks and Jessica Garcia, who played in every game last season. On the brighter side, Oregon State returns both of its All-Freshman Team representatives, Frankie Hammoude and Maia Rader.

Cal

2019 Record: 28-27 (5-18 Pac-12)

Pac-12 Preseason Coaches Poll Rank: T-8th

Last Postseason Appearance: 2018

Key Roster Additions: RHP Chloe Romero, So. (Texas), INF Sophia Medellin, Fr.

Key Roster Departures: RHP Kamalani Dung (Graduation), Zoe Conley (Graduation), INF Lindsay Rood (Graduation)

Top Returning Position Player: UTL Lauren Espalin, Jr. (2019 Stats: .346 BA, 10 2B, 28 RBI, .447 SLG)

Top Returning Pitcher: UTL/LHP Alexandra Perez, So. (2019 Stats: 6-0, 2.02 ERA, 45 IP)

On paper, 2020 appears to be a rebuilding year for head coach Diane Ninemire and Cal. It was a big enough task needing to replace Lindsay Rood, the team’s leader in hits, doubles, triples, runs and stolen bases, but the Golden Bears return next to nothing on the pitching staff.

Kamalani Dung and Zoe Conley are both gone, and even Kourtney Shaw, who pitched 11 innings last year, graduated. That leaves the only returning arm being Alexandra Perez, a sophomore who registered over 100 at-bats last year while also pitching 45 innings. Cal recruited a pair of freshmen arms, Sona Halajian and Maggie Joseph, as well as Chloe Romero, a Texas transfer who tossed 16 innings last year in Austin.

Utah

2019 Record: 19-35 (7-17 Pac-12)

Pac-12 Preseason Coaches Poll Rank: T-8th

Last Postseason Appearance: 2017

Key Roster Additions: UTL Charlee Pond, So. (Ohio), INF Madi Jacobus, Fr., C Julia Scardina, Fr.

Key Roster Departures: OF Ally Dickman (Graduation), UTL/RHP Hailey Hilburn

Top Returning Position Player: OF Alyssa Barrera, Sr. (2019 Stats: .376 BA, 1.031 OPS, 37 RBI, 9 2B)

Top Returning Pitcher: RHP Sydney Sandez (2019 Stats: 11-9, 4.99 ERA, 130.1 IP)

The Utah Utes have been in a bit of a rut since making back-to-back Super Regionals in 2016-17. Last year, their biggest problem was on the rubber. Utah held the conference’s highest team ERA at 6.30, which was an entire run higher than the next team. The Utes are hoping Sydney Sandez will make a jump in her sophomore year after being thrown into the fire of Pac-12 hitters as a freshman.

The lineup, however, looks to possibly be stronger in 2020. After earning Second Team All-Conference status, outfielder Alyssa Barrera tops the Utah lineup. Now add in Ohio transfer Charlee Pond, plus the duo of Softball America’s Top 2019 High School Recruits, Madi Jacobus and Julia Scardina, and Utah might have enough offense to overcome pitching deficiencies.

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