The giant is no longer sleeping. The Arizona State softball team, mostly a fair-to-middling program over the years, set in an area where you would expect a juggernaut, has come alive this spring.
The Sun Devils, who host No. 2 UCLA and No. 14 Washington this weekend, are looking more and more like a team that can make the College World Series in Oklahoma City, a feat ASU has accomplished only twice since 1987.
ASU is a stunning 37-3, good enough for a No. 8 national ranking.
“Concentration and focus from first pitch to last,” first-year coach Clint Myers said. To say that Myers seems like a good hire is a bit like saying his Sun Devils have a good shot at a winning season.
Surely, he’s qualified. He spent 19 years coaching at Central Arizona College, where he won six national junior-college softball titles in nine years and one national title in 10 seasons as the school’s baseball coach.
In fact, longtime Sun Devil fans might remember Myers’ baseball background as a star for ASU, where he played for both of the school’s legendary coaches, Bobby Winkles and Jim Brock.
“They were both dynamic men who were really influential in my life,” Myers said.
Winkles was a psychologist who “taught you to stay focused on what you had control over,” while Brock “was a little more of a tactician” who also emphasized skill development with various drills, Myers said.
Myers went as far as Triple-A in professional baseball. He picked up more knowledge playing in the St. Louis Cardinals’ organization for Ken Boyer, the former great third baseman.
(Myers’ sons Casey and Corey also played baseball; Casey was a star for ASU who is now in the Oakland A’s organization, while Corey, now a free agent, was a one-time high draft pick of the Diamondbacks.) Sun Devil players credit Myers and his staff for the big jump from last year’s 30-26 record.
“A huge difference” from the past, said pitcher Desiree Serrano, who — as a fifth-year senior — would seem qualified to speak on the subject. She thinks the Sun Devils’ players and coaches have a better working relationship under the current staff, and so the players are more driven to excel.
With all this going for them, the Sun Devils were able to win last weekend at Oregon State, snapping the Beavers’ 28-game win streak. Otherwise, they spent last weekend watching raindrops — their other two games in the Pacific Northwest were rained out.
They will continue to be tested this weekend, as UCLA — in particular — and Washington are traditional Pac-10 and national powers.
To get this far, “We’ve had a different hero every day,” Myers said. Any great softball team is led by great pitching, and the Sun Devils have plenty of it.
The leaders are Katie Burkhart, who is 16-1 with a 1.29 ERA, 186 strikeouts and just 13 walks allowed, and Serrano (15-2, 1.23 ERA, 159 strikeouts and 21 walks).
“They’ve made the pitches and we’ve made most of the plays behind them,” Myers said.
What’s a surprise is the play of a freshman outfielder who appears set to rewrite the ASU hitting records.
Kaitlin Cochran was supposed to be good. Coming out of Fullerton High School in California, she also was recruited by UCLA and California.
But did anybody, even Cochran herself, expect her to be flirting with hitting .500?
“Not at all,” said Cochran, who credits the coaching staff for creating an atmosphere where, “I love to come out here every day.”
Cochran is hitting .505 with 10 homers and 48 RBIs; the latter figure is four short of an ASU single-season record.
“She is having a wonderful year,” Myers said.
And so are the Sun Devils, who could be in store for a long postseason run.
UCLA at Arizona State
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Farrington Stadium, Tempe (east of ASU football practice field on Rural Road)
Washington at ASU
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Farrington Stadium, Tempe