By Robert T. Balint
When the Arizona State softball team opens the Women’s College World Series this Thursday at 4 p.m. against the University of Oklahoma, it will have something that none of the seven other teams in the tournament have — 14 of its 25 players are from 12 local high schools.
“Most of us are from Arizona, we’ve all been playing with and against each other for years,” said Mackenzie Popescue, one of the Sun Devil’s resident aces on the mound. A Chaparral grad who captained the Firebirds as a senior for the 2009 season, Popescue has a 13-3 record with a 2.22 earned run average. She got offers from big names like Texas, Alabama and UCLA, but she decided to stay close to home. “I’m a mama’s girl,” she said. “I always wanted to stay in state.”
Dallas Escobedo, a freshman phenom with a 32-3 season record, lives a half-hour away from campus and wouldn’t have it any other way. “I didn’t want to leave home, the hurler said. What’s more, “My family and friends come and watch whenever they want.” The two pitchers know each other well, having dueled many times, with almost every game going into extra innings.
Katelyn Boyd, a junior from Phoenix Horizon High and a top three finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award, lives at home and has connections with more than a few of her teammates from before Arizona State. “Talor [Haro]’s been my best friend since I was 14, and I’ve known Annie [Lockwood] growing up in high school, and I played with and against Dallas,” Boyd said.
Last Thursday, Boyd, Escobedo and Popescue took some time off from preparing for their Super Regional games against Texas A&M, which they later won 3-2 and 4-2, to sit down to talk about their transition from their high school teams to playing for Arizona State, and give some advice on those who would follow in their footsteps.
Tips for Ballplayers
- College programs offer sports camps for high school athletes, which are a great way to get recognized. “I went to a bunch of Arizona State camps,” Popescue said. “I got to meet the coaches and the girls, and I fell in love with them.” As college coaches are not allowed to approach high school athletes unless the athletes visit the college campus, camps provide an opportunity to get a feel for the program. “You get to sit down and talk to the coaches,” Popescue said, “and get to know them, how they coach and how they deal with their players.”
- Rise to the challenge. Boyd attended Horizon High School, but also played club ball, which is where she got noticed. “How we worked on our club team—conditioning was hard—the goal was to get us set for college,” Boyd said. The increased intensity that her club team brought made the transition from high school to college ball easier. Also, Boyd suggests that girls play at the highest level that their skills can allow, no matter the age group. I feel like if girls can play up—if you’re good enough at 14 to play at 18 level, do it,” the shortstop says. “You can only get better by beating better players, tougher competition.”
- Hit the books. Escobedo attended St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, and that helped prepare her for college life. “St. Mary’s has strong academics—our classes were tough,” Escobedo said. The life of a college athlete is a harried one—classes, practice, homework, team meetings, etc. take up large chunks of time. Rising softball players have to know how to keep everything in balance. “It was private school so that prepared me, and made me more responsible,” Escobedo said. “That made me grow up quicker.”
Advice to Parents
- Push your daughter, but not too much. “There were times I wanted to give up, and take it easy,” Popescue said about her days playing ball before ASU. “To get to this level, you can’t.” The desire has to come from the athlete. “You can’t make your daughter work hard,” Boyd said, “It has to just come around.” Says Popescue: “It comes down to hard work and pushing your kid. I mean, not to the point that they’re going to hate softball, but to the point that you’re working hard.”
- Be engaged. “My dad always made sure that I got enough rest and sleep, and that I ate right,” Escobedo said. Richard Escobedo would go over with his daughter her performances on the mound and at the plate, and prescribed advice and extra pitching in the backyard. “He pushed me so much that I hated it, but I’m thankful because I wouldn’t be here [without it],” Escobedo said. Her mom, Jodi Gosch, played the “good cop,” talking Dallas through bad practices and games, always ready with a shoulder on which to cry. “She would be on my side, she’s happy for me all the time,” Escobedo said.
- Find the right program. Boyd described her “checklist,” a list of what she was looking for in a college team. For her, ASU fit the bill—close to home, nice weather, etc. Aspiring players should make checklists of their own, so that they know what they’re looking for in a team. Find “the right coach, the right program,” Boyd said, and that fit depends on the individual.
Postscript — On June 2, Katelyn Boyd and Dallas Escobedo, along with their ASU teammate Kaylyn Castillo, were named first team All-Americans by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. Another local girl named to the first team All-American team was Ashley Hansen, a junior shortstop at Stanford University. Hansen is a graduate of Corona del Sol High School in Tempe.
Postscript II — On June 7, ASU won the Women’s College World Series by defeating the University of Florida 7-2. Dallas Ecobedo was named the Most Outstanding Player of the World Series along with Florida’s Michelle Moultrie.