Nobody can predict what happens in a rivalry series, and that was no exception for ASU softball as it took on rival UA in a three-game series that not only had the highest attendance of the year, but also some of the most tense games played at Farrington Stadium.
The Sun Devils (32-6, 6-3 Pac-12) took the first two games to win the Territorial Cup Series point in close matches and pitching dominated the game.
Senior Dallas Escobedo threw a phenomenal weekend despite suffering a 6-5 loss to the Wildcats (29-8, 4-5 Pac-12) on Sunday. Escobedo threw an incredible 30 strikeouts in her 16 innings in the circle.
“You just can’t lose focus really,” Escobedo said about the stress of a rivalry series. “Home runs don’t bother me or base hits. … Just wash it out of your mind, so what, next pitch.”
Senior Mackenzie Popescue threw her own gem Saturday that allowed the defense to fend off a Wildcat offensive attack that had twice as many hits as the Sun Devils.
The Wildcats lost 4-1 despite their offensive effort mostly because, as coach Craig Nicholson said, “the biggest thing for (Popescue) tonight was no walks.”
“She really attacked their hitters, changed speeds very well, hit her spots,” Nicholson said. “They had eight hits, but I think probably half of those were infield-type, dribbler-type hits or bunt hits. I thought she really threw the ball well tonight.”
But the pitchers weren’t the only ones getting the job done as junior catcher Amber Freeman hit a two-run home run in the first game of the series to give the Sun Devils all the runs they needed for their 2-1 victory on Friday.
An even more impressive feat, however, came from freshman Chelsea Gonzales on Saturday, when, with the Sun Devils trailing by one, she hit a three-run double to gain the lead, which held for the eventual 4-1 victory.
Gonzales wasn’t even playing the field, but was on the bench watching each pitch from redshirt senior Kenzie Fowler before she was sent to pinch hit for senior right fielder Bailey Wigness.
The hit from Gonzales helped Popescue gain her 16th win on the season and showed the depth in the Sun Devil lineup. More importantly though, her ability to step in and execute is what Popescue said the team has been focusing on all year: having one another’s backs.
“I’m never worried. We can be down 1-0 in the seventh inning and not a single one of us are worried. That’s our thing this year: never stop fighting,” Popescue said.
That was proven Sunday with a 10-inning game that lasted more than three hours.
The Wildcats scored during their final out of regulation play to push the game into extra innings and after a two-run home run from both sides to further elongate play, the Wildcats scored an unanswered run in the 10th for a 6-5 Sun Devil loss.
The sweep would have been sweet but Nicholson said his players played well even if they could have capitalized better in regulation play to end the game.
“When you look at this weekend as a whole — two out of three against Arizona, rivalry game, two highly ranked teams — two out of three is pretty good,” Nicholson said.
What can be said about the Sun Devils leaving this weekend is that they are no longer a team that needs an early lead for a victory.
It wasn’t until the Stanford series that ASU had a come-from-behind victory when they were trailing after the fifth, but there was no sign of that problem against the Wildcats as they scored late in both Saturday and Sunday’s games.
The Sun Devils resume practice Tuesday and travel to Berkley, Calif., for their game against California on Friday.
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