The Big Winners at the Kajikawa Classic


It’s just the opening weekend of Division I college softball, but it’s the only on-the-field evidence of who’s got what this season.

The Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona, was among the best places to make that evaluation as 28 teams, including 12 from College Sports Madness’ Top 44, were in action for four days. The 75 games (plus one cancellation) gave us a good starting sample.

Here are the teams – ranked or otherwise – who made the best impression this weekend.



The No. 4 Ducks have a copious amount of pitching with Megan Kleist, Maggie Balint and Miranda Elish returning. Their lineup lost some pop with shortstop Nikki Udria’s departure, but the transfer of All-American DJ Sanders from Louisiana seems to have more than compensated for that. Sanders hit .462 with four home runs and 11 RBI in her first weekend with the Ducks. Catcher Gwen Svekis also is stepping up her power game. After hitting 10 last season, she hit five in the six games in Arizona with 12 RBI. In fact, the whole Duck lineup proved peerless in Arizona. They scored 73 runs in the six games, hit .472 with 17 home runs and stole nine bases to boot. Pitching, power, speed? Check, check and check. Expect Oregon to challenge for the title.



No. 11 Tennessee may have been the “other” 6-0 team in Arizona, but you won’t find the Volunteers apologizing for it. The Vols had two wins against Pac-12 schools. First was a 7-4 decision on the opening night against No. 23 Arizona State, snapping the Sun Devils’ streak of 22 years winning their opener. Then Tennessee rallied Saturday from 5-0 down to beat No. 16 Utah 6-5 in walkoff fashion. That will put a spring in your step when you board the plane home. In the circle, Kaylan Arnold struggled on the weekend, but expect her to return to her All-SEC freshman team form. Gabby Sprang showed her potential, though she battled some freshman inconsistency. Matty Moss was lights out. At the plate, Scarlet McSwain looks ready to have a breakout season after clubbing three home runs and driving in 10 for the weekend. And Meghan Gregg is Meghan Gregg, after all.



The Bulldogs may be No. 31 in the Madness’ Top 44, but put a bullet next to them on the list. Their sole loss was 8-3 to Oregon, the closest game the Ducks played, and their schedule was the toughest of the tournament. Georgia’s offense is kind of Oregon Light, with a similar blend of speed and power. The pitching isn’t as deep as it is with the Ducks – whose is? – but Brittany Gray gives the Bulldog a solid anchor in the circle. It’s notable that Gray didn’t pitch against Oregon. Georgia did beat No. 16 Utah, No. 29 BYU and No. 43 Oregon State, and it absolutely demolished the sole unranked team it faced, San Diego State by a 23-2 count, in the opener. The SEC is brutal, but don’t expect a repeat of last year’s face plant in conference play.



The best team on the Wildcats’ schedule was No. 24 Oklahoma State, and Arizona did not play well in a 9-4 loss. That had Mike Candrea talking for a long, long time to his team, and the Wildcats seemed to respond thereafter. By far their best game was the 13-1 demolition of No. 33 Fresno State. Arizona has a ton of power, having popped 12 over the fence in their five games. And Taylor McQuillin is capable of giving more in the circle than she did against Oklahoma State.


Arizona State

The Sun Devils did have the advantage of being at home for this tournament and capitalized on it with a 5-1 record, but if you’re dismissing ASU as a second-tier Pac-12 team, well, it may have a surprise for you. The three Fresno State transfers – Maddi and Kindra Hackbarth and the dynamic Morgan Howe – plus Texas transfer Jade Gortarez have remade the ASU lineup. The Sun Devils still have some pop in their bats, as they did last year, but they may be marked more now by their aggressive base running, which could be characterized as borderline reckless. It’s seen more in taking extra bases than stealing bases. G Juarez’s international experience this summer will be valuable, and she joins with Bre Macha and Dale Ryndak to give ASU options in the circle.


Oklahoma State

The No. 24 Cowgirls didn’t start the weekend off right, falling to No. 43 Oregon State 8-2 Friday despite collecting 10 hits. But Oklahoma State regrouped by nightfall and pulled off the tournament’s biggest upset in beating No. 7 Arizona 9-4. It was a remarkable weekend for All-American Vanessa Shippy, who set the school’s career record for walks and later went over 200 hits for her career. Shippy did eventually get out during the tournament – but not often. She was an unworldly 11 for 13 (.846!) with nine runs scored, six RBI and two home runs. She also walked five times and was hit by a pitch. She deserves a good night’s sleep after getting on base that much. She wasn’t alone, either, as four other regulars hit .500 or better for the weekend. The question is how the pitching staff by transfers will work. Early returns are hopeful. Emmie Robertston from Pittsburg State beat Arizona on her way to a 2-0 weekend, and Samantha Clakley from Texas-Arlington bounced back from the Oregon State loss to throw a complete game against No. 34 Missouri, giving up just one earned run.


Oregon State

The Beavers got that win against Oklahoma State, but didn’t handle Georgia well, losing 7-0. Still, it was a 4-1 weekend that also included a 14-9 win against No. 29 BYU. That does come with an asterisk – BYU did not have a good tournament, winning only once. Meehra Nelson was sharp on the weekend, and freshman Mariah Mazon, though she gave up a lot of hits, worked through the situations and looks ready to contribute. Speedy Jessica Garcia led the offense, hitting .471 on the weekend.



The Cornhuskers are looking to bounce back from a rare losing season, and they got off to a great start in accomplishing that, going 5-1 and working their way back into the game they lost to Arizona State. They beat the two Utah schools, No. 16 Utah 5-0 and No. 29 BYU 5-4, helping those schools to disappointing weekends. Kaylan Jablonski had a monster tournament, going 3-0 in the circle with a 1.50 ERA and hitting .474 to boot. Tristen Edwards also was big at the plate with a .524 batting average. The Huskers are back.


San Jose State

The Spartans missed out on a game when Missouri had plane trouble in St. Louis and arrived to the tournament late. But they didn’t lack for success, going 4-1 with the loss being by one run to Tennessee. The rest of the schedule wasn’t quite as tough, but they beat who was put in front of them and showed they can score. They put up 46 runs in the five games, though only four players started all five games. Desiree Severance and Madison Aurin pitched well for San Jose State, too.



Another Big Ten school looking to come back from a losing season. Northwestern has been a regular at the Kajikawa Classic, but missed last year. The Wildcats are glad they came back this year, as they went 4-1 for their best start since 2008. The loss was a battle in the opener with No. 7 Arizona that Arizona won 4-1 late. The best win was against Big Ten rival Indiana, wherein Hoosiers pitcher Tara Trainer had a perfect game going through five innings and a 1-0 lead. Sammy Nettling broke through with a double to lead off the sixth, sparking Northwestern to a five-run outburst and 5-1 win. Lily Novak hit .500 for the weekend for the Wildcats.


Fresno State

The No. 33 Bulldogs were 3-2 for the weekend, and the losses were blowouts, but to elite teams – 8-0 to No. 4 Oregon and 13-1 to No. 7 Arizona. Still, they finished the tournament with a bang, beating No. 38 Notre Dame on a solo walkoff home run by Katie Castellon after trailing 4-0 to the Fighting Irish earlier. Fresno State also beat Stanford earlier in the tournament on an extra innings home run from Vanessa Hernandez, so that team knows it can win a tight game late. That should prove valuable as the season moves on.



Seattle? Yes, Seattle. The Redhawks proved to be a gritty bunch this weekend. Every game was close. Their two losses on the weekend were by one run apiece, dropping a 4-3 decision to Notre Dame after leading 3-1, and then 3-2 to Nebraska on Sunday. On Saturday, the Redhawks won twice in extra innings, first on Kamryn Kanae’s two-run home run against CSUN, then 11-8 against Western Michigan in 10 innings, a game that went late into the evening. The big slugger for the weekend was Madison Cathcart, who hit .412 with four home runs. Ally Choate went .450 for the tournament. In the Western Michigan game, those two drove in the three runs in the 10th inning that made the difference. Carley Nance recorded two of Seattle’s wins in the circle. So while Notre Dame was also 3-2 and beat Seattle, if you’re talking about best impressions made in the tournament, Seattle had a weekend to remember.

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