After a long and unpredictable seven-game stretch for ASU softball, senior starting pitcher Dallas Escobedo finished the series with a 1-0 no-hitter victory over Longwood to wipe the slate clean and look forward to the Sun Devils’ (21-3) first road trip.
Escobedo’s game began unlike the rest this season, with sophomore catcher Katee Aguirre behind the plate instead of her usual partner in junior Amber Freeman. Freeman tweaked her ankle in a game against Ball State on Sunday, but Escobedo felt confident working with her catcher.
“It wasn’t that different; Katee has caught me so many times during practice,” Escobedo said. “She’s a little smaller, so I liked throwing to her zone.”
With Freeman out of the game, coach Craig Nicholson called most of the pitch sequences from the dugout, giving Escobedo a chance to mix up her style and throw her drop ball more.
Escobedo would go on to strikeout 13 batters, bringing her career total to 999. Her only blemishes on the board were three walks, as well as hitting the second batter of the game. Escobedo said despite the end result, the start of the game felt shaky.
“Honestly, in the beginning, I felt terrible. I wasn’t feeling myself,” Escobedo said. “Katee helped me out back there a lot, talking me up, telling me what she was seeing back there and making adjustments kind of as we went through the game.”
Aguirre, despite not being Escobedo’s regular catcher, has caught for her many times in practice and felt up to the task of catching the powerhouse pitcher.
“I’m honored to catch for Escobedo,” Aguirre said. “She went out there and pitched her best so I’m glad I was behind the plate.”
The Sun Devils lost three games in the Louisville Slugger Invitational and played unlike the team they had proven themselves to be during the first three weeks.
Slow bats were the weak link but the Sun Devils proved they could hit with their 16-2 run-rule victory over Detroit. The bats struggled again today, with the Sun Devils only getting five hits, but Aguirre knows that the no-hitter tonight is crucial for while moving into travel ball.
“It’s a great way to start our first series on the road,” Aguirre said. “We all know we struggled this weekend so it was good to kind of come back and end that way.”
Escobedo’s win did not look guaranteed coming into the seven inning, however, with the Sun Devils scoreless until the very end.
It was undoubtedly a pitcher’s duel between Escobedo and Lancer freshman Elizabeth McCarthy. Offensively, the Sun Devils struggled to get hits all game, working through the lineup twice before any serious contact was made.
Sophomore second baseman Nikki Girard got the game-winning RBI but ended the game without a hit and says that the answer to the offensive struggle was obvious.
“We just weren’t making adjustments, plain and simple. We were chasing her pitches, we weren’t getting ours and we were taking good ones,” Girard said.
Regardless of how it was done, the Sun Devils got the win, and to Nicholson that’s more important than a no-hitter.
Nicholson has seen plenty of good and bad in the past seven games. It’s hard to summarize a series that has a no-hitter, the first three losses on the season, and a 16-run game, but he knows what matters in the overall picture of a team.
“The one thing I take away from the past seven games overall was that we played very good defense,” Nicholson said. “Obviously that was a little bit of a concern after three weeks, and I think in many ways we’ve shored that up, so that’s a good thing and now we have to be consistent with what we do in the batter’s box.”
Consistency is what Nicholson strives for in his team, but that steadiness was shaken with the first losses of the season, the first weather delay, and uncharacteristically disappointing plate appearances. Now Nicholson must add one more first to his list as the team prepares for their first series on the road in Fullerton, Calif., for the Judi Garman Classic.
Nicholson said his players are excited to hit the road and see someone else’s home turf, while shaking off some of the negatives from the weekend. More importantly this is the first road trip as a team and the significance of that as a new coach cannot be underscored.
“It’s good for us obviously before we start traveling in conference to get a road trip under our belt,” Nicholson said. “First road trip with the new coach, we don’t know what to expect from each other, so it’s good for us to get out and do that.”
The Sun Devils will not have practice on Wednesday for a much-earned day of rest before heading out to California on Thursday for their game against Michigan.
The Sun Devils have proven they can come back from losses at home, now a new challenge rears its ugly head and all the players and coaches can do is board the bus, drive out to Fullerton, and play the ASU softball they know they can.
Reach the reporter at Nkwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit