ASU softball (40-7, 13-4 Pac-12) had a week off from Pac-12 play and took on Southern Mississippi Friday in a landslide 8-0 victory led by senior pitcher Mackenzie Popescue’s five-inning no-hitter.
Popescue dominated in the circle with her off-speed pitches that had the Golden Eagles (22-26) swinging at nothing but air and grounding out 11 times.
“I felt good,” Popescue said. “I just went out there and tried not to think about it and my defense had my back the whole way.”
She stayed low in the zone and the Golden Eagles “fished at those drop balls” to aid Popescue’s near perfect outing. Popescue walked one on the night and struck out two.
It is usually senior pitcher Dallas Escobedo who starts in the circle for the Sun Devils but coach Craig Nicholson said he wants to throw Popescue twice this weekend with a day off in the middle.
Nicholson had some other changes to the lineup with junior first baseman Bethany Kemp sitting while sophomore Jenn Soria took over the position. This late in the season, especially on what should have been a bye week, is when injury prevention is most necessary.
“We’ve got some people busted up, a little bit sore, a little bit tender,” Nicholson said. “It’s kind of that combination of wanting to get people some time off and getting certain people who may need to do some things for us down the stretch some at-bats so they’re ready.”
Soria went 0-for-3 on the night but had an RBI on a fielder’s choice and was the eventual clinching run of the game. In a wacky ending, Soria stole third with two outs in the fifth and the Golden Eagles threw to third for the attempted tag but the ball was bobbled and rolled away from sophomore third baseman Michelle Stringer. Soria ran home and scored easily to push the Sun Devils to an eight-run lead in the fifth, enacting the run-rule victory.
There are some players, however, who are healthy as can be and continue to excel late into the season.
Junior third baseman Haley Steele hit a massive solo homerun over the left field fence in the third inning to add to an RBI double in the first. Steele is currently on pace to break all her personal records and does not look like she’s slowing down any time soon.
“This is just kind of how I progress through the season. I don’t do so well in the preseason, I hit really well in Pac and I do even better in the World Series,” Steele said. “It’s just kind of progression I’ve gone through my whole life.”
She is going to need to keep progressing the way she has with the next two weeks featuring two of the most difficult teams the Sun Devils have to face this season in UCLA and Oregon.
This is usually a bye week for the Sun Devils that would be used to rest, so this nonconference series is strange to players like Steele who are used to having rest and practice days late in the season.
“This has not happened since I’ve been here,” Steele said. “But you know, this is kind of us relaxing. We had some things we need to work out after Washington and this is kind of allowing us to have a real live game situation to work some of those kinks out for the rest of the Pac.”
The Sun Devils return to Farrington Stadium Saturday at 7:00 p.m. for the second game of the series. Escobedo will represent the Sun Devils in the circle.
Reach the reporter at Nkwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit