The dawn of the 2018 season is on the horizon, and there's no better place for the top teams and freshmen to be battle-tested before it gets underway than the Kajikawa Classic.
Hosted by Arizona State, the four-day event in Tempe, Arizona, runs from Thursday to Sunday this week and includes 28 total teams.
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No. 3 Oregon ushered in another talented class of athletes that made its squad even stronger this year. All four freshmen are ranked in the 2017 Hot 100: Lauren Burke, Olivia Kinsey, Mary Iakopo, and Shaye Bowden. Iakopo will likely split time behind the plate and at first base. For these young Ducks, they will have a tough time breaking into the lineup with veterans Gwen Svekis, Jenna Lilley, Lauren Lindvall, and DJ Sanders at the helm. This year's preseason schedule will test the Ducks, and these newcomers will have plenty of opportunities to get experience playing against top 25 competition.
Some questioned why Notre Dame freshman Alexis Holloway was named the 2017 High School Player of the Year, but she more than proved that she is the real deal after winning the first 18U Premier PGF National Championship by a team outside of California. Without question, Holloway could be the 2018 Freshman of the Year and a future All-American. On the mound, she will be a breath of fresh air in the circle for Notre Dame and will be one of the most exciting pitchers to watch at Kajikawa. Listed at 5-foot-3, Holloway is a spinner with deadly off-speed and a competitive edge comparable to Ole Miss' Kaitlin Lee.
Riley Wester, younger sister of Karley Wester, makes her debut this weekend. Wester doesn't quite match the speed of sister, Karley, but will nab 20 or more bases. She can hit for average and will be clutch in pressure situations given her experience.
Truth be told, losing Arizona ace Danielle O'Toole, slugger Katiyana Mauga, stud shortstop Mo Mercado hurts, and leadoff Mandie Perez hurts. But Mike Candrea's Wildcats have a reserve of freshmen and sophomores ready to get after the 2018 season. With five players listed in the 2017 Hot 100, Ivy Davis and Hannah Martinez could vie for a spot in the in the infield. Hanah Bowen provides much-needed depth in the bullpen behind ace Taylor McQuillin. Fighting for a position in the outfield will be Jenna Kean, Davis, Carli Campbell, and Taryn Young.