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No.3 Arizona State at No.1 Oregon this weekend in NCAA softball

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Ranked No. 3 in the nation, the Arizona State softball team is down to its final two regular season opponents: No. 1 Oregon and No. 2 UCLA.

The Sun Devils (42-7, 13-4 Pacific-12) travel to Eugene to face the Ducks (46-5, 17-1) for a three-game series beginning at 5 p.m. Friday, before hosting the Bruins (44-4, 15-3) May 8-10.

“It’s nice to save those best teams for last,” said ASU senior pitcher Mackenzie Popescue. “It keeps us pumped because those are the teams we face in the postseason. Dallas (Escobedo) and I know what we have coming, we’re ready.”

Popescue (20-1, 1.35 ERA) was named Pac-12 pitcher of the week after posting two of ASU’s three wins over Conference USA’s Southern Mississippi. Now, she and Escobedo (20-6, 1.65, 273 strikeouts) will face a team that has won 12 consecutively and 19 of 20.

“Oregon’s a much better hitting team,” ASU coach Craig Nicholson said. “I thought our pitchers did a really good job this week, we were working ahead in the count, and that’s what it’s going to take against a very good offensive team like Oregon. We’re going to have to hit our strides.”

Leading the Ducks at the plate are senior third baseman Courtney Ceo (.487 BA, 30 RBI), junior left fielder Janie Takeda (.403, 25 RBI), senior right fielder Alexa Peterson (.373, 55 RBI), sophomore center fielder Alyssa Gillespie (.367), and senior first baseman Kailee Cuico (.359, 49 RBI, 13 HRs). Sophomore pitcher Cheridan Hawkins is 28-3 with a 1.35 ERA and 251 strikeouts, while junior Karissa Hovinga is 14-1 with a 2.02 ERA.

Catcher Amber Freeman leads the Sun Devils with a .435 batting average, followed by third baseman Haley Steele (.387 and team-high 47 RBIs), Chelsea Gonzales (.360) and Elizabeth Caporuscio (.352). Steele and Bethany Kemp each have hit a team-best 11 home runs.

“Clearly it’s making sure we have good practices and having that game plan, it’s all about who can make adjustments in the process,” shortstop Cheyenne Coyle said of the keys against Oregon.

Last season, the No. 5 Sun Devils won two of three over the No. 3 Ducks to close the regular season in Tempe. They eventually went on to the WCWS, while Oregon lost in the Super Regional to Nebraska.

Following Oregon, UCLA and ASU: Florida State, Alabama, Michigan, Florida, Arizona, Tennessee, and Washington round out the Top 10. The Wildcats are at the Huskies this weekend, and close the season at home versus Oregon, and UCLA hosts Stanford.

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