ASU softball holds on for win over Utah

Missed opportunities and errors can cost teams games they should have won.

Thankfully for the ASU softball team, Friday night’s game was not one of those nights.

The No. 7 Sun Devils (37-6, 11-3 Pac-12) held on to beat Utah 4-3 at Farrington Stadium. Senior pitcher Mackenzie Popescue (18-1) got the win, and freshman Sammy Cordova (7-4) was saddled with the loss for the Utah.

 

 

The Utes (16-18, 3-10 Pac-12) got off to a slow start, and that allowed ASU to build and keep a lead.

The Sun Devils got off to a hot start early. After a leadoff single by senior center fielder Alix Johnson, senior shortstop Cheyenne Coyle took a 2-1 pitch from Cordova and drove it over the scoreboard in left field to give ASU a 2-0 lead.

“I didn’t actually look at it, I know that’s weird for me,” Coyle said. “I knew I hit it right away, but I wasn’t focused on where it went, and I was like, ‘Yay, finally.’ ”

ASU added on to its lead in the second inning. With two outs and a runner on first base, Johnson swung at the first pitch she saw and put it into right center field for a double, scoring another Sun Devil run.

Coach Craig Nicholson saw his team’s offense drop off dramatically in the middle innings.

“They definitely made some adjustments with how they were pitching us,” Nicholson said. “However, I do think we had some pretty poor at-bats in the middle innings, we had some really good ones too, we just didn’t string them together.”

The Utes struck back in the third inning. A walk by senior center fielder Chalese Hadley, a groundout and a strikeout put a runner on second base with two outs in the inning. Freshman shortstop Anissa Urtez hit a 1-2 pitch into left field, scoring Hadley and plating the first run of the game for Utah.

After ASU tacked on another run in the fifth thanks to a single by Coyle, the top half of the sixth inning was the Utes’ best offensively. After a leadoff groundout, three straight Utes singled to load the bases. Popescue was able to maneuver her way out of the inning with two groundouts and allowed just one run.

During the jam, Popescue said she did not think any differently than she does at any other stage of the game.

“I like that adrenaline and that pressure,” Popescue said. “It usually helps me perform a little bit better, but I was really just thinking keep the ball low because a ground ball gets me out of that inning.”

The Utes struck again in the seventh, but fell just short. A single, an error and a sacrifice fly scored a run and put the tying run on second base with two outs for Utah. Junior right fielder Marissa Mendenhall hit an infield single past Popescue, but the alert sophomore second baseman, Nikki Girard, picked up the ball and threw Urtez out to end the game.

Overall Popescue thought she performed well in the win.

“I think I overall did OK,” Popescue said. “I didn’t quite have my stuff like I usually do, but my defense had my back the whole way, so they carried me a little bit tonight.”

Nicholson knows his team did not play its best today, but it ended up being good enough to win the game.

“In every three-game series there’s that game that you don’t play your best and you escape with a win if you’re going to be successful and that was tonight for us,” Nicholson said. “We didn’t play great, but we found a way to get it done.”

Tomorrow at noon, the Sun Devils will try to complete the sweep over the Utes, which is always important in Pac-12 play.

“We know what it takes to win,” Coyle said. “You can’t afford to drop a game to anyone, regardless of who we play.”

Reach the reporter at mtonis@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @Tonis_The_Tiger