ASU softball able to rest key players in dominating sweep of Southern Mississippi

Freshmen short stop Chelsea Gonzales takes a deep breath before standing at home plate during a game against Southern Mississippi April 27. The ASU Sun Devils won the match 5-0. (Photo by Diana Lustig)

Freshman shortstop Chelsea Gonzales takes a deep breath before standing at home plate during a game against Southern Mississippi April 27. The Sun Devils won the match, 5-0. (Photo by Diana Lustig)

ASU softball had a chance to step away from Pac-12 competition for a week but continued a high level of play with a devastating sweep over a Southern Mississippi team that didn’t score a run the entire series.

Historically, this week would be a bye week for the Sun Devils (42-7, 13-4 Pac-12) and would offer them a chance to rest and practice after constant conference challengers. Despite not getting a week off, they still got something out of the series against the Golden Eagles (27-22, 10-11 SEC) with a number of starters getting at least one day to rest.

Senior pitcher Dallas Escobedo, who typically starts two out of three games in a series, was limited to only one appearance in the circle in the game on Saturday, but made the most of it by tying her record for strikeouts in a seven-inning game at 16.

The Sun Devils would go on to win that game 6-0 with late game bursts in the fifth and sixth innings that propelled them to a victory, while the Golden Eagles went scoreless off six hits.

Escobedo’s time off gave senior pitcher Mackenzie Popescue two showings in the circle, which she made the most of, including throwing a no-hitter to begin the series Friday.

In 12 innings pitched over the weekend, Popescue only gave up three hits. She mentioned after the game Sunday that she was able to experiment a bit more with some of her pitches with the Golden Eagles not being a conference team.

Popescue was not the only one with a standout weekend, as sophomore Jenn Soria was used as a utility player and had time at first base, right field and left field.

Soria has only started 10 games so far this year but scored four runs on her weekend, including the run-rule-activating game winner in Popescue’s no hitter.

Coach Craig Nicholson mentioned that he was looking to rest some players who have been beaten down as the season has gone on, including junior first baseman Bethany Kemp, who is working her way back into the lineup after taking a pitch off the wrist, and senior right fielder Bailey Wigness, whose foot was “tender” after hitting a foul ball directly onto it.

“We’re fortunate to have someone like Jenn that can play probably at least four, maybe five positions and do it well,” Nicholson said.

Each position player that Soria covered for had time on the field during the series, and it was more about rest than healing.

Some players do not need rest and thrive even more so in these late games in the season. Junior third baseman Haley Steele has been on a tear over the past few series and kept it up with five hits, five RBIs and a home run.

The Sun Devils made good adjustments throughout the games and scored better in the later half than the beginning innings.

Nicholson applauded his players’ abilities to make the adjustments they needed, but they were still unable to come out and get the early runs they would have wanted for a commanding lead.

Regardless, the Sun Devils made it look easy and finished the weekend with high spirits and confidence fit for the coming challenge against Pac-12 leader Oregon.

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