Perfection is something that every team will strive for but rarely happens.
ASU softball made it 18 games perfect, but 19 was not to be, as the Sun Devils lost 3-2 to South Carolina on Thursday night.
The Sun Devils (18-1) went scoreless through six, with only two batters able to get hits by that time, against South Carolina freshmen pitcher Nickie Blue. With Blue’s 1.23 ERA entering the game, a pitcher’s duel was a clear possibility, making the offensive absence even more damaging.
Freeman was hitless in three at-bats and acknowledged the lack of offense.
“We didn’t really hit as well as we should have,” Freeman said. “Of course Dallas is going to give up runs but we just have to score behind her.”
Despite the scoring deficiency, the pressure didn’t come until the fourth inning when Gamecocks (14-2) senior second baseman Dana Hathorn was hit by a pitch and Escobedo fell victim to a two-run homerun from senior right fielder Chelsea Hawkins.
Hawkins’ swing changed the game and sent coach Craig Nicholson and his Sun Devils on a chase to find an opportunity of their own.
“They’re a pretty good ball club and if you make a mistake they’re going it hit it, and (Escobedo) made a mistake,” Nicholson said. “Sometimes that’s a good way to beat yourself, especially if you don’t take advantage of opportunities on offense.”
The Gamecocks were able to tack on one more run in the seventh before the Sun Devils came to the plate for their final chance at a comeback. In an eerily similar turn of events, junior left fielder Elizabeth Caporuscio was hit by a pitch and junior third baseman Bethany Kemp launched a home run to bring ASU within one, 3-2.
Senior right fielder Bailey Wigness then stepped to the plate with no outs and two runners in scoring position. After taking a strike and fouling off a squeeze-bunt attempt, Wigness struck out, followed by two quick outs to end the game and ASU’s 18-game winning streak.
While ASU lost its chance at a perfect season, Nicholson finally got a chance to see how his players would respond under pressure and how they will work after a loss.
“We need to be in those kinds of ball games,” Nicholson said. “I love the response, we definitely didn’t quit tonight. We grinded it out until the last out of the game and had a chance to tie it or win it.”
Nicholson blamed the loss on missed opportunities, not being outplayed. He said the team needs to relax in high-pressure situations.
One silver lining for ASU was its first game of the day against Detroit. The Sun Devils defeated the Titans (2-8) 6-4 behind a two-RBI game from junior third baseman Haley Steele and 2 1/3 shutout innings of relief from senior right-hander Mackenzie Popesque.
The Sun Devils still have four games left in the Louisville Slugger Invitational, but now must try to rebound after their first loss.
They take on another ranked team, No. 20 Minnesota, on Sunday, as well as Nicholson’s former team, Ball State.
“Great teams lose, but great teams bounce back too,” Freeman said.
Reach the reporter at Nkwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit