Video by Nolan Kwit | Sports reporter
ASU softball did not allow Southern Mississippi to earn a single run in its three-game series sweep that ended with a 5-0 victory on Sunday.
Senior pitcher Mackenzie Popescue threw in the circle for the Sun Devils (42-7, 13-4 Pac-12) and never had any trouble with the Golden Eagles (22-28, 10-11 SEC), who only earned three hits while and striking out seven times. Popescue usually only throws one game in a three game series but never faltered in her almost perfect weekend.
“I felt great,” Popescue said. “I actually felt a little bit better out there today than I did on Friday, but I kept it low and did my thing and always my defense got me. It was a good game; it went fast.”
This series marked a break in conference competition for the Sun Devils which opened up the opportunity to improve on some aspects and test some things before coming into a difficult next two weeks.
“With teams that aren’t conference, you can kind of experiment a little bit more so I tried throwing a little bit more off the plate a little bit and over exaggerating the drop,” Popescue said.
Similar to the game on Saturday, the Sun Devils could not get the hits they needed to grab the early lead they like to have.
The first hit for the Sun Devils wouldn’t come until the third inning with a single from senior right fielder Bailey Wigness that was topped off with a two-run shot over the fence from senior shortstop Cheyenne Coyle.
“I think we’re just getting a late start, and we’re making adjustments later in the game,” Coyle said. “It’s a good thing that we’re making adjustments, but we’d rather make them in our second at-bats than the third. It’s all about who can make adjustments the fastest, and I think that’s somewhere we can improve.”
It wasn’t until the Sun Devils’ last at-bats in the sixth inning that the offense finally got rolling after a home run from junior third baseman Haley Steele started the inning. Sophomore catcher Katie Aguirre would get an RBI of her own off a two-out triple, only to be scored by Wigness right after.
Part of the difficulties with the adjustments for the Sun Devils was the pitching changes brought in by the Golden Eagles that coach Craig Nicholson thought was effective against his team.
“I thought they probably did a wise thing today splitting up the game and not letting us see the same pitcher for more than two at-bats,” Nicholson said.
But no matter what the Golden Eagles did to try and stop the Sun Devils attack, Nicholson’s team “accomplished what we wanted to get accomplished this weekend.”
The Sun Devils will be back in against conference teams the next two weeks for two of the most challenging series their schedule has to offer.
UCLA and Oregon are at the top of the Pac-12, and this weekend was the calm before the storm at the end of regular season ball.
Players got a chance to rest, and the pitchers showed how dominate they can be in the circle this weekend. With that being shown, Nicholson said his team is ready for what lies ahead.
“I think that the good thing for us down the stretch that it’s not a matter of can we get up for these guys,” Nicholson said. “We’ll be ready for Oregon, for UCLA, and for whatever we see after that.”
The Sun Devils travel to Eugene, Ore., for their first game beginning Friday at 5 p.m.
Reach the reporter at Nkwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit