ASU softball gets fourth straight conference series win against Utah

Senior Right handed pitcher Mackenzie Popescue winds up to release the ball. ASU played Utah on April 11. (Photo by Mario Mendez)

Senior right-handed pitcher Mackenzie Popescue winds up to release the ball in a home game against Utah on April 11. (Photo by Mario Mendez)

The ASU softball team was back at Alberta B. Farrington Softball Stadium for
its series against Utah and moved to second place in the Pac-12 after
sweeping all three games.

The Sun Devils (38-6, 12-3 Pac-12) have swept their last two conference series and helped coach Craig Nicholson obtain his 1000th career victory on Thursday.

Despite the sweep, the Sun Devils did not pack the same power they usually do and faced tighter games than might have been expected from a lower ranked team.

“I just feel like some days the matchups are a little bit better,” Nicholson said. “I don’t think we played to the highest level that we can play at this weekend.”

In the first two games of the series, the Sun Devils scored in the first inning and held onto the lead until the end, but were unable to tack on runs later to add the buffer they may have wanted.

The Utes play a much “scrappier” style of ball than the Sun Devils do and became difficult outs while eating away at the Sun Devils’ security. They worked in countless bunt attempts and were tough to strikeout even for senior pitcher Dallas Escobedo, who usually throws double digit strikeouts in single outing. It took her two starts and 14 innings to reach that mark against the Utes.

Escobedo opened the series on Thursday and was able to keep the Utes to only three hits but knew by the time of her second appearance how difficult they were at the plate.

“I knew coming in that I wasn’t going to get a lot (of strikeouts), because I didn’t get a lot the other night, and they have really good swings,” Escobedo said about her performance on Saturday afternoon. She only earned two strikeouts.

The surprisingly low number of strikeouts did lend the defense an opportunity to prove they don’t need Escobedo to carry the weight on her own, including a game saving play at second from sophomore Nikki Girard to finish the 4-3 victory on Friday.

Nicholson said he actually thought his defense played better when Escobedo wasn’t the only one doing the work.

“I think sometimes it’s hard to play defense when she’s her normal, striking out 13 to 15 a game,” Nicholson said. “That’s tough to play defense behind, because the ball’s not in play very much, and then all of a sudden, somebody’s got to make a tough play.”

Nicholson said the Sun Devils had “coasted” to victory in the first game and have been guilty of that in the past, but they found themselves at the plate on Saturday, getting a whopping 15 hits against three different Utes pitchers.

The Sun Devils knew the games may not have been all they could have hoped for but they are still happy with the sweep and the victories.

The Sun Devils did see a bit of misfortune this week when junior first baseman Bethany Kemp was hit by a pitch on the wrist in the game on Friday and was out with an injury the following game.

Nicholson said that it’s too early to tell if she will be able to play the next series. Kemp leads the team in home runs with 11 and will be necessary in the coming conference series against Washington.

“She’s a big part of our lineup. We need her offense,” Nicholson said. “We need the best bat in that lineup.”

The Sun Devils have won their past four conference series and look for a fifth beginning Thursday at 4 p.m. in Seattle.

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