Monday, February 15, 2010
Updated: February 17, 4:28 PM ET
San Diego State regains offensive power
TEMPE, Ariz. -- As San Diego State coach Kathy Van Wyk strolled into the night after her team's season-opening win against Creighton, a fan stopped her to offer that, at least in his mind, she looked a decade younger this February.
Agassi-esque as backhanded compliments go, it still had a ring of truth to it as the weekend progressed.
San Diego State won its first five games at the Kajikawa Classic, missing out on a perfect start only after dropping Sunday's finale to Texas Tech in what was the team's sixth game in less than 72 hours. The Aztecs scored 29 runs in their five wins, including at least four runs in each game. That might not be cause for comment for a lineup like Arizona, but it's news for the Aztecs, who didn't score four or more runs in five consecutive games at any point last season.
Pitching and defense aren't at issue for a team that overcame that anemic offense to win the Mountain West and advance to the NCAA tournament last spring. Returnee Samantha Beasley looked particularly sharp over the weekend, striking out 32 and walking five in 22 1/3 innings.
But the Kajikawa also showcased a lineup that looked at least competitive at the plate.
In 53 games last season, the Aztecs hit a total of 12 home runs, nine by players who aren't on the roster this season. But when freshman Kristin May drove the first pitch from Creighton ace Tara Oltman over the fence for a walk-off two-run homer Thursday, the first walk-off home run Van Wyk could remember by a freshman in her first game, optimism reigned.
"She swings the bat aggressively," Van Wyk said of May. "She's not afraid to just go in there and get her hacks. And that's one of the things we're really trying to work on with the whole team. We can play defense and pitch with anybody in the country, but we've got to improve our hitting. And she's one of the main reasons that we feel like we've done that this year."
May's home run was one of three for the Aztecs in Tempe, all hit by newcomers, including Kristin's twin sister Kamerin. Both sisters were recruited by programs with World Series pedigrees, a place San Diego State has yet to venture despite four conference titles under Van Wyk's guidance. And infusing a lineup with a lot of returning talent, albeit not a lot of returning run production, with new talent creates the potential for a trickle-up effect on the returnees.
"That's definitely the hope," Van Wyk said. "That's one of the reasons we love having [Kristin May] there because I hope that they learn from her that first pitch is going to be one of the best pitches you see 90 percent of the time. So just be aggressive and go after it, just swing aggressively all the time."
• Arizona State's offense ran roughshod over the weekend, fueled by four home runs from Katelyn Boyd, and proved there is life after Katie Cochran. Pitching remains the biggest question for the Sun Devils, and as much as sophomore Hillary Bach still seems like the ace, it didn't go without notice that senior Megan Elliott started the team's games against Kentucky and Texas A&M over the weekend, the two best opponents on the schedule.
Elliott took the loss against Kentucky to open the season Thursday but overcame a rough first inning against Texas A&M Saturday night to earn the win. Coach Clint Myers denied there was a message intended for Elliott in giving her those particular assignments
"She's been here four years; she knows what she has to do," Myers said. "If you can't give the ball to a senior, then we're not doing our job. She did an outstanding job tonight. Look at the poise -- she gives up the home run in the first inning and she lets one run score on another home run later on, but I thought she pitched pretty darn well."
Given Elliott's struggles to maintain a consistent presence the past three seasons, said poise might be construed as progress. But Myers preferred to borrow Mark McGwire's former line of deflection when it came to whether the early trouble might have undone Elliott in seasons gone by.
"I don't really like talking about the past," Myers said. "It's a situation where you've got to learn from history and move forward and I think she's done an outstanding job doing that."
• Junior third baseman Krista Donnenwirth was not in the lineup for any of Arizona State's games and remains suspended indefinitely after an offseason arrest for suspicion of driving under the influence. Charges have yet to be filed. She remains a member of the team and is eligible to practice under terms of the suspension.
Myers said he will be the one to determine the next step.
"Right now it's in my hands and we've got to wait for a few things to happen and get worked out but once that happens Krista and I will sit down and discuss what's going on," Myers said.
Graham Hays covers softball for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com.