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How Arizona State Defied The Odds And Won The Pac-12

arizona state photo courtesy of Sun Devils Athletics.jpg
(Photo by Sun Devils Athletics)

Coming into the season, Arizona State was picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 standings, according to the preseason coaches poll. Fast forward to now, and the Sun Devils are Pac-12 champions for the first time since 2011 after recording a program-best 20 conference wins.

The last two times the program won a conference championship were in 2008 and 2011, and in both of those years, Arizona State won a national championship.

As the eighth seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, the Sun Devils are eligible to host a super regional in Tempe, should they advance past the regional round this weekend.

This year, the team hopes its home regional has a different outcome than last year's shocking exit with a loss to BYU. But there appears to be a different level of confidence in the 2022 squad.

“I just think we’re piggybacking off of everyone, and the biggest thing is our chemistry is so good right now,” shortstop Alynah Torres said. “The biggest difference is we know if I’m not doing it, someone else behind me is going to do it for me, and I just think it’s us trusting each other.”

A series this season that turned many heads was when Arizona State took on rival Arizona. The Sun Devils swept the Wildcats for the first time since 2011, but it’s the way they achieved that feat that was impressive. They run-ruled Arizona twice in Tucson for the first time ever and defeated the Wildcats by seven runs in the other game.

One of the biggest reasons for Arizona State's success this season is thanks to Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Cydney Sanders. She leads the team in batting average, hits, slugging percentage and tied the school’s single-season home run record, which was set last year by Maddi Hackbarth.

“I feel like I’ll be a bigger impact because they don’t really have any film on me and they don’t know who I really am yet,” Sanders said.

Sanders' teammates have been extremely impressed with her since she arrived on campus.

“Cyd’s a phenom,” Torres said. “She can do it all. Defense, offense. She’s just so calm in the box. She knows what she’s doing. I could see her talking to herself throughout her at-bat, and that is so mature.”

Sanders’ arrival hasn’t been the only difference-maker for the Sun Devils this year. Outfielder Yanni Acuña has made her presence felt in the lineup as well.

After hitting .271 as a freshman in 40 games played, Acuña’s production took a nose-dive in the shortened 2020 season with just one homer and two RBIs. In 2021, however, she found herself in the lineup more often than not, hitting .311 with seven home runs.

But this season, she is not only a regular in the lineup, but she is also one of the team’s best hitters. Her batting average currently sits at .413, and she has 12 homers and a team-leading .563 on-base percentage, making for a lethal top of the order.

“Alynah being leadoff, me hitting second and Cyd hitting third, it’s just a great lineup to begin with because I know Alynah is going to get on, and then if she gets on, I get on,” Acuña said. “We just keep the momentum going.”

Pitching has perhaps been the biggest turnaround for Arizona State from last year’s team. The addition of freshman Mac Morgan has certainly paid dividends, as she’s pitched 96.1 innings with a 16-3 record and 2.69 ERA.

Although she was on the roster last season, Marissa Schuld had to sit out 2021 due to the in-conference transfer rule. Now, she’s making an impact and leading the team in strikeouts with 85 and opponents' batting average at .213.

Lindsay Lopez’s 1.75 ERA leads the team, and she holds a 12-3 record this season with nine complete games. Transfer Jessica Puk, who sees the bulk of the playing time behind the dish, has a first-hand look at the success of the pitching staff.

“Their confidence radiates throughout the entire team,” Puk said. “They always manage to find a way to bounce back, which is something super special about our team.”

Heading into the Tempe Regional, Arizona State faces a tough road ahead with San Diego State, LSU and Cal State Fullerton coming to town. But playing in Tempe and capturing the frustration of being seeded lower than expected should be a huge advantage for the Sun Devils.

“Club Farrington knows how to get hyped,” Torres said. “I think our fans understand what we went through and what we did to be where we’re at. So, they’re going to feel that hurt, they’re going to feel like we deserve better. I think they’re going to bring the fire that we have internally.”

maddi hackbarth photo by jade hewitt.jpg

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