Oregon and Georgia Highlight Day 1 of the Kajikawa Classic

A couple of coaches from opposing schools, scouting the Georgia-San Diego State game that started the 28-team Kajikawa Classic, laughed at one’s comment that they were anxious to get on the field and see what they had.
“Everyone is like that for the opening game,” one replied, as all agreed. “At least until Saturday.”
Yes, it is only Day One of the college softball season, but it’s never too early to start drawing conclusions – at least until next week proves them wrong.
Nonetheless, here are a few things we learned from the first day at this tournament, hosted by Arizona State, which features 12 teams in the College Sports Madness Top 44.
Oregon has all the elements for a national championship:
On paper, we all knew that. But the No. 4 Ducks looked as good on the field as they do on paper, at least in their season opener against No. 31 Georgia. Megan Kleist sailed early and even when she faded late, it hardly mattered. Oregon has an embarrassment of riches in the circle, and Mike White just called on Maggie Balint to close it out after Kleist gave up two singles to start the seventh.
“I don’t think Kleist is conditioned to go seven yet,” White said. “She started to get the ball up, and that’s a sign of fatigue. And against a quality team like Georgia, they’re going to make you pay for that.”
Other than all that pitching, Oregon also displayed its speed, including a successful double steal to score a run when it appeared Alexis Mack was caught up in a rundown between first and second. DJ Sanders scored and Mack still ended up at second.
The Ducks don’t lack for power, either. Gwen Svekis homered to center field to give the Ducks a 2-0 lead in the first and Shannon Rhodes’ sixth-inning, two-run homer to left was an absolute monster shot.
And don’t forget defense. Haley Cruse ended Georgia’s sixth inning, in which the Bulldogs had already scored one run, by throwing out Justice Milz at the plate on a peg from right field after Mahlena O’Neal’s single.
“That was good to see,” White said. “We’ve been working on that.”
Don’t sleep on Georgia:
OK, so by the results, it may appear that the Bulldogs remain the enigma that blew through non-conference play last season, then collapsed during the SEC portion of the schedule. They obliterated a good San Diego State team 23-2 behind 12 runs in the first inning, but then went quiet early against Oregon, with their only hit through five innings being Kendall Burton’s solo home run off Kleist.
But the Bulldogs kept scratching at Kleist till they broke through, and Jordan Doggett even worked a walk off the fresh Balint before she closed out the game. Getting a run in each of the final two innings showed Georgia wasn’t rolling over.
Georgia, like Oregon, has a blend of speed and power. It clubbed five home runs on the day and stole three bases.
It has depth at pitching and didn’t show Oregon its ace, Brittany Gray, who went two innings against SDSU and then called it a day. That was by design. Coach Lu Harris-Champer said she was more interested in seeing everyone than bringing Gray back to face the No. 4 Ducks.
What Georgia might need is work on its defense. The Bulldogs had three errors vs. the Aztecs, the only thing that one could criticize from the opener in which the Bulldogs tied a school record for runs scored.
“They have everything – speed, power,” San Diego State coach Kathy Van Wyk said. “They’re going to do well this year.”
Shortstop Alyssa DiCarlo, who was back home in Arizona for this tournament, was 3 for 4 with a home run and a double, three runs and four RBI against San Diego State, but just had a walk in three plate appearances against Oregon.
Gabby Sprang lives up to the hype:
Tennessee’s top recruit, rated No. 3 in the country in the Hot 100 freshman class, came on in relief of Caylan Arnold when No. 23 Arizona State scored three times to tie the game in the second inning. The 6-foot-1 left-hander worked the final five, giving up just one run on five hits, walking two and striking out four in a stellar relief appearance that allowed the No. 11 Volunteers to beat ASU 7-4, snapping the Sun Devils’ 22-year win streak on opening games.
“It did go well,” Sprang said. “I am playing with that defense, which is phenomenal. That’s something I’ve never had before. I trust my catcher. I trust my defense. I trust all my teammates.”
To Ralph Weekly, co-coach of the Vols, it means for the first time he has a pitching staff, with Arnold, Sprang and Matty Moss, who threw a complete game in an 8-1 win against Boise State.
“She (Sprang) hadn’t pitched in that kind of game before, but she throws the down ball, and Arizona State was kind of teeing off on us,” he said. “So we tried it, and it worked out well.”
Arizona State actually outhit Tennessee 11-6, but a little bit of power went a long way for the Vols. Scarlet McSwain and Chelsea Seggern homered to account for five runs, and Meghan Gregg, who had two home runs against Boise State, ripped a run-scoring double in the fifth inning. The last run came on an ASU error in the seventh.
Arizona State is on the right track:
Though the Sun Devils lost their opener for a change, they won’t be too down about it, given the quality opponent and the good signs ASU showed. Besides a couple pitches left up, starter Giselle Juarez was solid in coach Trisha Ford’s eyes and Bre Macha mowed Tennessee with five strikeouts in two innings of relief, though the Vols managed an unearned run off her.
But don’t call this a rebuild for the Sun Devils, who won national championships in 2008 and 2011. Ford prefers to look at it differently.
“We’re making progress, but we want to make it ours, rather than rebuilding something,” she said. “We’re trying to create our own path, make our own name.”
And in that respect, Ford saw lots of good things from her team, even if the result wasn’t what the Sun Devils wanted.
And Ralph Weekly, an ASU alumnus, saw the same thing.
“They’re a quality team,” he said. “They’re going to win a lot of games.”
Arissa Paulson is ready to take over as BYU’s No. 1:
BYU has the veteran hitters, as shown in its 10-1 win against Stanford. The question was whether last year’s No. 2 pitcher, Arissa Paulson, was ready to take over for departed ace McKenna Bull. Early returns indicate she is.
Paulson, who was playing 90 miles from home in Payson, Arizona, admitted to some nerves early as she loaded the bases with two singles and a walk in the first. But she got out of it by striking out Lauren Frost, and she got out of another two-on jam by striking out Frost on a pretty changeup that Frost swung through to end the fifth.
When BYU’s bats, silenced by Carolyn Lee early, came alive, Paulson really broke out, finishing with eight strikeouts, one unearned run and six hits allowed in six innings and saying the run support really took a load off her.
“Arissa has the talent,” BYU coach Gordon Eakin said. “She has all the pitches. What she needs is experience, and as she gets that this season, she’ll be fine.”
Eakin said he preaches resilience to his team, and it showed it against the Cardinal. Lee kept BYU scoreless for 4 2/3 innings. Then leadoff hitter Rylee Jensen drew a walk, Briielle Breland singled to left and Lexi Tarrow, who had struck out her first two appearances, unloaded a three-run home run to right field.
“Lexi had two brutal at-bats,” Eakin said. “But then she got the home run that got us going.”
BYU followed with a seven-run sixth that killed any Stanford hopes.
Stanford finally has a future:
New coach Jessica Allister, coming from a strong Minnesota program back to her alma mater, may need some time, but her club showed early grit in going toe-to-toe with BYU.
BYU’s big bats eventually won out and there may not be enough depth of talent…for now.
But Lee looked like she was taking a step up and a couple of timely hits would have gone a long way to making this game look better. And Stanford rebounded to beat San Diego State 4-0 in its second game.
San Diego State has some things to work on:
You rarely see a runner called out by being hit by a batted ball. For the Aztecs, though, it happened twice in one inning. And that was just one thing among a slew of bad happenings for San Diego State in its 23-2 loss to Georgia.
“We made base-running mistakes, and you can’t do that through the season,” Van Wyk said. “We missed backups. We missed some opportunities to dive for balls. If you’re going to play this game, you have to play as hard as you possibly can. If you don’t, look where it gets you.”
Yeah, it gets you on the wrong end of 23-2.
But Van Wyk is a veteran coach and she knows the season isn’t decided on the first day. San Diego State has a history of 30-win seasons under her and is coming off a year where the Aztecs finished second in the Mountain West and set a number of school hitting records.
And there’s this: Mountain West coaches tapped San Diego State as the preseason favorite to win the conference.
“You have to (put it behind you),” she said.
Coming up Friday:
Thursday’s schedule was a limited one, but everyone has arrived for the 28-team tournament, and 25 games are on tap for Friday.
That schedule includes five games that pit two teams from Madness’ Top 44 against each other. Those games are:
--No. 43 Oregon State vs. No. 24 Oklahoma State
--No. 4 Oregon vs. No. 33 Fresno State
--No. 16 Utah vs. No. 31 Georgia
--No. 7 Arizona vs. Oklahoma State
--No. 29 BYU vs. Georgia