After a four-hour battle on Saturday, ASU softball was looking for an easier outing in its second game against Stanford, and that’s just what it got with a 9-0 run-rule victory in five innings.
Senior Mackenzie Popescue started in the circle for the Sun Devils (29-5, 3-2 Pac-12) and threw a performance that never gave the Cardinal (23-10, 1-4 Pac-12) a chance to repeat their bolstering offensive performance from the night before.
Popescue came in briefly against the Cardinal on Saturday but was relieved after obvious frustration about the strike zone made coach Craig Nicholson pull her from the circle.
“It’s a funny game, it’s a game of failure. Yesterday I was worrying about things I couldn’t control … and I let that get to me a little bit,” Popescue said.
The strike zone and umpire can have a great impact on the game, as senior Dallas Escobedo experienced on Saturday, but today Popescue made it a point to not think about the man behind the plate.
“(The strikezone) is something we can’t control so I just worried about pitching to (the Cardinal) and not pitching to the umpire,” Popescue said.
The offense also fell back into more familiar territory at the plate and capitalized on that opportunity, especially in the third inning where they scored seven runs and put the game into run-rule position.
Beyond the strike zone though, the Cardinal had another problem that made the Sun Devils especially able to strike at the plate.
Stanford began the season with three starting pitchers and after two were injured only one regular pitcher remains in freshman Madi Schreyer, who pitched almost the entire nine innings on Saturday. Schreyer rested in the second game of the series, forcing the Cardinal to play position players in the pitcher’s spot to fill in.
Because of the inexperience in the fill-in pitching staff, players must be moved around often to accommodate for position players leaving the field. This scrambling around on the field is not only unsettling to the Cardinal, but something that players like junior left fielder Elizabeth Caporuscio try to benefit from.
“We definitely notice,” Caporuscio said. “We know that with them scrambling gives us that much more confidence to just be like, they’re down and we’re up so we have the advantage and need to take it.”
Caporuscio went two for three on the night with one run scored and moved her average to over .400 on the season.
This rise in performance even in the face of Pac-12 games and more difficult competition is not unusual in a Sun Devil offense that had two other players with a multi-hit game, in senior right fielder Bailey Wigness and junior designated hitter Amber Freeman, who also hit a two-run home run in the third inning.
The key, Caporuscio said, is to forget about the failures in the past and focus on the preparation that got them all here.
“Mentally I just focus on doing my thing,” Caporuscio said. “Going up there not worrying about the fact that it’s Pac-12 or that it’s more competition. If anything that gets me more fired up.”
Nicholson says that the biggest factor in the victory today was looking at film from Saturday’s game and not letting things get out of hand on the field.
He also noted the importance of striking while the Cardinal settle its pitchers, and not becoming complacent to inexperienced pitching.
“Obviously they’re pitching staff is beat up and they’re running out two or three people that aren’t really pitchers so it’s just making sure that we’re getting good pitches to hit off those guys and don’t take for granted that they’re really position players,” Nicholson said.
The Sun Devils can also take solace that they have been improving their hitting consistency with runners on base. Tonight both the hits and the runs categories showed an even nine, emphasizing that the ASU softball team is getting the hits when it counts.
Wins don’t happen without doing something right, but the Sun Devils problem has been that one phase of the game is carrying the other, but tonight pitching worked harmoniously with those at the plate.
Nicholson said that to win championships all three phases have to be working together and tonight was the kind of play they want to continue to see.
“Tonight everything did come together. We did a lot of things well,” Nicholson said. “Again, we’ll see if last night creates some momentum for us and obviously with our performance today, check in the first box, and we’ll see how long we can sustain that momentum.”
The Sun Devils will be back on the field Monday at 4 p.m. for their final game of the Stanford series at Farrington Stadium. They have already won the series, so tomorrow’s game is to play for the sweep.
Escobedo is expected to be in the circle to begin the game.
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