ASU softball sweeps conference series against Utah

Sophomore first baseman Nikki Girard   successfully returns to first base after a pick off move. ASU played Utah on April 11. (Photo by Mario Mendez)

Sophomore first baseman Nikki Girard successfully returns to first base after a pick off move at a home game against Utah on April 11. (Photo by Mario Mendez)

The sun shined high in the sky over Farrington Stadium Saturday afternoon for ASU softball’s 7-4 victory over Utah to sweep the series.

The Sun Devils (37-6, 11-3 Pac-12) may not have played to the level they would have liked, but a strong offensive outing that produced 15 hits was more than enough to take down the Utes (16-19, 3-11 Pac-12).

There was still the issue of leaving runners on base, with the Sun Devils sporting double-digit hits with only two runs across the plate, but coach Craig Nicholson applauds his team’s effort.

 

 

“I don’t know that we played great, I thought we competed well,” Nicholson said. “I don’t think we played our best, I don’t think we played bad by any means but you know we found a way to win three games.”

The Sun Devils picked up a run in the first inning after a double from junior third baseman Haley Steele, but despite runners being on base consistently they had difficulty getting those runners to cross safely.

Nine runners would be left stranded on the day but at least they were getting hits they needed and never alleviated pressure on the pitcher. For batters like Steele, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, it’s not always about scoring runs right away if they feel the game is in their favor.

“I wasn’t worried, the pressure was off, we were hitting their pitchers, Dallas (Escobedo) was throwing a good game,” Steele said. “The fact that we had 11 hits was meaning that we were still hitting her and later in the game we just started grouping up our hits and manufacturing runs a little bit better.”

Utah’s approach differs from the Sun Devils’ and the Utes are what Nicholson describes as a “scrappy ball club” that likes to moves around the bases and throw down plenty of bunts. This limited senior pitcher Dallas Escobedo to only two strikeouts on the day, which Nicholson is not used to seeing from his ace.

“I don’t feel like Dallas had her stuff today by any means but again I felt she went out and competed,” Nicholson said. “If you’re going to be a great pitcher you got to be able to win when you don’t have your best stuff.”

Nicholson went on to say that the defense actually plays better when Escobedo doesn’t have to take the reins all on her own and kept the Utes to only three hits on the day. Escobedo had her own moment in the defensive spotlight with a diving play to catch a popped-up bunt that may have worried her pitching coach, but saved a hit and wowed the crowd.

“(Pitching coach Chuck D’Arcy) always tells me not to dive and I haven’t for two or three years but that would have been a hit and I’m not trying to get another hit,” Escobedo said.

The day game in the heat may have taken some luster out of the Sun Devils’ game as Escobedo said they “weren’t as up as we could have been and we should have been.” She said that she was just “going through the motions” before the Utes put on the pressure in the sixth, which is when Nicholson said they began to fall into their groove.

The sun took its toll on the outfield, as a ball got lost in the sun and players like Steele wore glasses to try and adjust.

“It’s always different not playing under the lights,” Steele said. “You got the sun, it’s hot, but that’s just a mental state of mind and you work through it and we came out when we needed to come out and play.”

It’s no secret that the Sun Devils didn’t play to the caliber they thought they might but taking home all three games of the series is enough for them.

“You know what, a win’s a win, a sweep’s a sweep,” Steele said. “I understand some other teams played a little better against Utah but we got it done and we did our job and we’re on to Washington.”

Reach the reporter at Nkwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit