Cal hosts ASU in battle of top 2 softball teams

The Arizona State softball team wraps up its regular season in Berkeley, Calif., and it could very well be a Women’s College World Series preview.

Taking on No. 1 Cal, the No. 2 Sun Devils have a chance to capture the first-ever Pac-12 Championship. The reigning conference and national champion, ASU (45-5, 17-2 Pac-12) must win two of three games to secure its third conference title. In both seasons (2008 and 2011) ASU has won the conference title, it has gone on to win the national championship.

A potent offense has powered ASU this season, with a 7.58 runs per game average ranking second in the nation. Shortstop Katelyn Boyd has led the effort out of the leadoff spot, with 58 RBI, 19 home runs and .589 on-base percentage — all team bests.

While Cal (48-3, 19-2 Pac-12) is also a top five scoring team with 7.02 runs per game, they’ve been perhaps most impressive in the circle. Jolene Henderson and Valerie Arioto have combined to form a dominant pitching duo with 48 wins between them. Henderson (29-1) boasts a 1.10 ERA (seventh best in the Division I) and Arioto (19-2) is at 1.29 (16th) after missing last season with an injury. Arioto can hit, too; she has racked up 55 RBI and 21 home runs this season to go with a .626 OBP, second best in the nation.

The Sun Devils could see Henderson twice in the series, certainly the greatest test of their offense yet this season. ASU counters with its own impressive duo of pitchers in senior Hillary Bach (19-0, 1.45 ERA) and sophomore Dallas Escobedo (19-4, 2.59).

There could hardly be a more fitting close to a regular season than a meeting between college softball’s top two teams to determine a conference champion, but it may be just a teaser for a matchup to come later at the WCWS in Oklahoma City.

Both teams have plenty of games to play before thinking about the WCWS, and Sunday night’s selection show will determine what’s next for them. It’s likely ASU will again host a regional to start the postseason next weekend and could host a super regional should they advance from the regional group.

First things first, though. as the showdown with Cal begins Thursday at 3 p.m. and continues Friday at 3 p.m. and Saturday at noon.