It just wasn’t in the stars for ASU softball in the Louisville Slugger Invitational as the Sun Devils (19-3) lost both games of their interrupted double header to No. 20 Minnesota 3-2 and coach Craig Nicholson’s former team, Ball State, 3-0.
Senior pitchers Dallas Escobedo and Mackenzie Popescue led the Sun Devils the circle in what would become defensively superior games instead of letting the bats do the talking.
Escobedo battled against the Golden Gophers’ (15-2) senior pitcher Sara Moulton, who Nicholson already mentioned was a talent early in the week. Moulton struck out eight Sun Devils and allowed only four hits, a minuscule number for such a powerhouse team.
Nicholson chalked up the uncharacteristically low numbers to a lack of aggression shown at the plate.
“I thought we looked a little passive,” Nicholson said. “From my angle it looked like we really just took too many pitches.”
The Sun Devils drew eleven walks on the night and often loaded the bases, the problem was the inability to get key hits when they were needed. Against the Cardinals (11-2), ASU left 14 runners on base and didn’t capitalize on many opportunistic situations.
After defensive problems in weeks prior and offensive struggles in their first loss, before getting the offense got back on track Friday night, ASU has had a difficult time putting a complete game together.
“Right now for whatever reason we’re not putting all three parts of the game together,” Nicholson said. “We’re in a little lull right now but we’re talented and we’ll get ourselves out of it.”
This mentality is shared across the board, despite adding three losses to a previously perfect record in the span of only a few days. The fact is that the season is young and Escobedo, among other leaders, know how important it is to think about losses as much as you do wins.
“We’re going to remember what happened … we need to prove what ASU softball is again,” Escobedo said.
Escobedo said people still haven’t seen what this team is capable of doing together and that it’s time to show that they’re as dangerous as ever.
Freshmen and seniors alike struggled to get hits with only junior left fielder Elizabeth Caporuscio staying successful at the plate with two hits and two RBIs against Minnesota only to come back and take three of the six hits in the game against the Cardinals.
This is the first time this season the Sun Devils have had to face this type of adversity and the next step is taking something away to learn from. They saw talent they haven’t seen in early tournaments which is part of the correction freshman designated hitter Chelsea Gonzales plans to make.
“I think today wasn’t our day but we got to see some good pitching this weekend, some that we haven’t seen before so I think it’s just adjusting to that,” Gonzales said. “Tomorrow’s a new day, so tomorrow we’re going to beat someone and we’re going to beat them hard.”
On top of the mental toll a loss can take, Nicholson had to face his former players at Ball State who came out ready for a challenge that the Sun Devils couldn’t match.
“They played their tails off,” Nicholson said. “They’re coming here with one thing on their mind; they’re not just showing up to play.”
The Cardinals played with an obvious fire that lasted until the very end in the seventh when they scored the runs they needed to close out the game. A walk and two timely hits were all it took to send three runs home against Popescue and give her record the first loss of the year.
Popescue’s pitching along with an unbreakable defensive wall lead by sophomore second baseman Nikki Girard, simply were not enough to put the win on the scoreboard.
“I don’t think we’ll chalk it up as a fluke, I think it humbled us a bit,” Popescue said.
The Sun Devils know that there’s room for improvement as they continue playing tomorrow to make up for Saturday’s rain cancelation, followed by a non-tournament game on Tuesday against Longwood.
“This is ASU softball, there’s nobody better than us,” Popescue said.
Reach the reporter at Nolan.Kwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit