No. 3 ASU softball made sure that everyone knows it deserves to be a top team with a 4-2 victory over No. 1 Oregon to begin its weekend against the Pac-12 leaders.
ASU came out with tenacity in the pitching staff, aggression on the bases and power at the plate.
The Sun Devils (43-7, 14-4 Pac-12) made a statement early with a home run launched over the left-field fence by senior shortstop Cheyenne Coyle for a 1-0 lead. The early runs are sometimes a missing piece in the Sun Devils’ game, which is why coach Craig Nicholson loves to see the numbers up on the board early.
“I think it was huge,” Nicholson said. “It’s what we’ve been talking about, throwing the first punch in the fight and we did that. It was a huge swing for us and kind of got us rolling a little bit.”
While the Sun Devils have power, the Ducks (46-6, 17-2 Pac-12) have speed.
Shutting down the first batters in the Duck’s lineup would be crucial for a Sun Devil victory, Nicholson said, and senior pitcher Dallas Escobedo did that and more with her first five outs of the game coming from strikeouts.
Escobedo had a solid outing and proved why she’s the ace of the team. She threw eight strikeouts on the day but was called for several illegal pitches throughout her appearances and had to keep her cool when things weren’t going her way.
The fourth inning was when the ride stopped being so smooth, and Escobedo had to fight off a Ducks team that was desperate for a lead.
First, sophomore center fielder Koral Costa tied up the early lead with a solo home run that easily cleared the right field fence. A walk followed by an illegal pitch put sophomore second baseman Karine Shaver on second base.
The Ducks then took the lead with a single up the middle from sophomore shortstop Nikki Udria.
Escobedo continued to have difficulties with illegal pitches during the game. She was crow hopping during her pitches, which had Nicholson and coach Mike White of the Ducks talking to the umpires several times throughout the game.
The Ducks did have some major defensive mistakes of their own, which is especially surprising from a team that has been actively trying to improve its defense as it moves into the postseason.
Junior left fielder Elizabeth Caporuscio doubled in the sixth inning, which was the catalyst for the Sun Devils to make some big moves. Sophomore Allie Butterfield pinch ran for Caporuscio and put the pressure on sophomore pitcher Cheridan Hawkins in a fielder’s choice situation when she sprinted to third and drew Hawkins to toss to third instead of the force out at first. This left Butterfield safe at third with a runner safe at first from the missed opportunity.
Both runners would score off a single from freshman designated batter Chelsea Gonzales that would bounce behind junior left fielder Janie Takeda for an error. Senior right fielder Bailey Wigness would reach on an error at third base, and Gonzales would score on a wild throw to second base that was trying to catch Wigness on a steal attempt.
Three errors from the Ducks brought the Sun Devils three runs and a 4-2 lead in the sixth, where the score would stay until the end of the game.
Nicholson said that his players kept patient later in the game and drew pitches back into the zone to allow for more playable hits. This could not be more important to the emphasis they are playing this weekend: getting timely hits.
“Obviously, we pitched well and played defense well, but we also just had timely hitting,” Nicholson said. “We stayed with it and it’s all about who takes advantage of the opportunuies and we did a little bit of a better job of that today.”
This is a big win for the Sun Devils, who can add their name to the list of only two Pac-12 competitors to put a win on the board against the Ducks.
There are still two more games of the series, and now that both teams have seen what the other has, the competition is only going to get harder.
Saturday’s game begins at 4 p.m. in Eugene, Oregon, as the Sun Devils look to clinch the Ducks for the first time, while the Ducks battle to equalize the victory.
Reach the reporter at Nkwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit