The Morning After: ASU softball sweeps first tourney

ASU softball against Boise State in the Kajikawa Classic 2013 on Sunday. (Photo by Sam Rosenbaum)

ASU softball against Boise State in the Kajikawa Classic 2013 on Sunday. (Photo by Sam Rosenbaum)

A second look at ASU softball’s 7-0 start in the Kajikawa Classic:

 

Escobedo pulled three outs from a perfect game

Every pitcher’s dream is to throw a perfect game. To not allow a single batter to reach base in an entire game is quite a feat.

Through the first five innings against Boise State, junior pitcher Dallas Escobedo retired all 15 hitters in order. ASU owned a commanding 10-0 lead entering the bottom of the sixth inning.

The mercy rule would kick in if ASU could maintain at least an eight-run lead after the inning, meaning Escobedo needed three outs to get in the bottom of the sixth to complete the perfect game.

However, freshman pitcher Alexis Cooper was seen warming up in the bullpen. At this point in the game, ASU had subbed out many of its starters.

ASU coach Clint Myers had made his controversial decision: giving Cooper her first NCAA experience and eliminating a chance for Escobedo to pick up a perfect game.

“Dallas had a perfect game going,” Myers said. “She was right up there cheering Coop in. I mean, Coop’s been warming up since Thursday for the last inning of the tournament.

“That’s the kind of player that Dallas is. Team first, not the personal accolades. That says volumes about her character and her leadership. Everybody knew she had the perfect game. She knew she had the perfect game, but what was more important — getting Coop a chance to have her first day in the sun.”

In her ASU debut, Cooper pitched a scoreless inning, allowing a walk, but nothing else. ASU combined for a no-hitter in the game.

“It’s about getting ready,” Myers said. “It’s about playing our best softball at the end. We’re going to need Coop. There was no pressure on her, and Coop and Dallas combined for a no-hitter. So both their names go in the record book.”

Escobedo was upbeat following the game, despite a missed opportunity at achieving the greatest single game accomplishment a pitcher can earn.

“I did want Coop to get in there, give her some good experience,” Escobedo said. “She’s been warming up since Thursday night. I’m happy about my performance today.”

 

Mack escaping tight jams 

Junior pitcher Mackenzie Popescue has allowed one run all season in 20.1 innings pitched. It was unearned.

In Popescue’s last two starts, she hasn’t allowed a single run, earned or unearned, despite allowing lots of runners to reach base.

Let’s take a look back at a sample of the jams Popescue has escaped in her past two outings, in the order they happened in:

Second inning, vs. Western Michigan:

Popescue loads the bases with one out after struggling with her command, allowing a base hit and two walks. At this point, Popescue received a mound visit from the coaching staff, and Cooper was warming up in the bullpen. With one out Popescue got the strikeout she needed and with two down Popescue fielded an easy comebacker to retire the final out.

Seventh inning vs. Western Michigan:

A play this inning may top the cake for craziness. With a runner at first, Western Michigan’s freshman Melissa Palmer drove a ball into deep right field. Senior outfielder Becca Tikey fired home and ASU tagged out the runner trying to score.

Immediately after tagging the runner out, junior catcher Lucy Aubrecht threw to third to complete the crazy double play and end the game.

First inning vs. Bradley:

This was a tough-luck inning for Popescue. She appeared to have the first hitter out on strikes but an illegal pitch was called which extending the at-bat. Then the leadoff hitter reached on an error. With two outs and two runners on, an infield hit allowed the bases to become full (the play could have been called an error).

With the bases loaded Popescue struck out the final hitter.

Second inning vs. Bradley:

In this inning the leadoff hitter reached on a ball that went under Steele’s glove. The runner advanced to second on an illegal pitch and to third on a fielder’s choice.  Cooper was warming up in the bullpen again.

When it counted, Popescue escaped the inning by retiring one batter by strikeout and another by foul out.

In those two games, when hitters faced Popescue with runners in scoring position, they had one hit in 12 at-bats. The opposition walked once and struck out five times in those situations.

12 runners were stranded on base and 11 runners reached second. Some runners made it to second, but were not stranded because they were thrown out at the plate or at third.

“Mackenzie is a competitor,” Myers said. “I mean, she pitched the second game last night (Saturday), and 16 hours later, she’s back in the circle. She wants the ball she wants to go out and pitch, and I think she did a really good job of mixing her pitches. Rise ball is coming, the curveball looked good, the drop ball is phenomenal. She’s still got a ways to go to be the pitcher she wants to be.”

 

Reach the reporter at justin.janssen@asu.edu