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Scouting report: UCLA softball vs. Arizona State

By Sam Lieberman

April 19, 2023 9:38 p.m.

No. 2 UCLA softball (39-4, 15-3 Pac-12) has a chance to exact revenge on Arizona State (21-16, 5-10) in the Bruins’ final Pac-12 home stand of the regular season. The Sun Devils are mathematically eliminated from winning this year’s regular-season title after doing just that in 2022, but the team comes to Easton Stadium still battling for an at-large bid to this year’s Women’s College World Series. UCLA enters hot and in search of a fourth-consecutive Pac-12 series sweep. Here is this week’s scouting report from softball contributor Sam Lieberman, who wants to use this platform to say hi to his parents (hi mom and dad).

Arizona State Personnel:
Position Player to Watch: OF Yannira Acuña
Pitcher to Watch: RHP Kenzie Brown
X-Factor: INF Jordyn VanHook

Arizona State Statistics:
Batting Average: .274 (No. 113 nationally, No. 8 Pac-12)
Earned Run Average: 3.47 (No. 152 nationally, No. 7 Pac-12)
Fielding Percentage: .960 (No. 157 nationally, No. 8 Pac-12)

Just like a season ago, the Sun Devils will oppose the Bruins for the latter’s penultimate conference series of the regular season.

However, there is a key difference between 2022 and 2023: The conference record of Arizona State. Last season, the Sun Devils entered their battle with the Bruins at 16-2 in Pac-12 play, while this year they enter at 5-10.

The Sun Devils’ decline in both offensive and pitching production is to blame.

In its Pac-12 championship-winning 2022 season, Arizona State led the conference with a .610 slugging percentage, .422 on-base percentage and 104 home runs despite having the fewest number of total at-bats as a team.

The Sun Devils were also middle of the conference in ERA and opposing batting average at 2.62 and .242, respectively.

This season, their batting average has experienced a small drop – now sitting at .271 – while they slug .490 and have an OBP of .366. In the circle, Arizona State has seen both its ERA and WHIP shoot up to 3.47 and 1.50, respectively. As a result, the Sun Devils are in the bottom third of the Pac-12 in almost every pitching and hitting category.

A big reason for the regression can be attributed to losses in the transfer portal. Infielders Cydney Sanders and Alynah Torres transferred to Oklahoma, while pitchers Lindsay Lopez and Mac Morgan left for Washington and Texas, respectively.

Sanders hit .425 with 21 home runs and 63 RBIs last season, earning her Pac-12 Freshman of the Year honors. Torres hit .339 and tacked on 16 home runs of her own, while Lopez and Morgan possessed sub-3.00 ERAs despite being the only Sun Devil pitchers to throw more than 100 innings.

To replace these losses, Arizona State snatched utility Alexa Milius and pitcher Mac Osborne from Virginia Tech, as well as adding pitcher Kenzie Brown from Tulsa.

While the trio has been productive, it hasn’t replicated the same success as the outgoing transfers. Brown leads the team in wins, strikeouts and opposing batting average, but has a 1.39 WHIP.

Additionally, pitcher Marissa Schuld and outfielder Jazmine Hill have both dropped off since strong campaigns a season ago. The Sun Devils do boast outfielder Yannira Acuña, though, who is hitting .405 with 10 home runs through 38 games this season. Acuña was Softball America’s Most Improved Player last season after hitting .430 with 14 home runs.

The surprise of the season for Arizona State, however, has been infielder Jordyn VanHook, who played sparsely in her first three seasons with the program but has now cemented her spot in the lineup. VanHook has burst onto the scene, smacking 16 home runs while hitting .324.

VanHook’s 16 bombs lead the Pac-12, with UCLA’s redshirt junior utility Maya Brady following close behind with 15 of her own. The former by no means has a chokehold on that lead, though, as VanHook is 7-for-37 in conference play thus far with only two home runs.

If Arizona State wants to take a game or two from UCLA, VanHook will need to break out of her slump so the Sun Devils can keep pace with Bruins’ average of 6.42 runs per game.

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