Video by Nolan Kwit | Sports Reporter
Senior night is a day to celebrate the accomplishments and longevity of teammates, but the mood was dampened for ASU softball on Saturday after losing its final regular season game and its series to UCLA in a 9-2 finale.
The Bruins (48-6, 19-5 Pac-12) jumped on the Sun Devils (44-10-1, 15-7-1 Pac-12) from their first at-bats until their last for an offensive bombardment that ASU was unable to match while facing a top Bruins pitcher who was an enigma all series long.
A walk opened the game for the Bruins, and it was soon followed by a double from freshman shortstop Delaney Spaulding that put runners in scoring position. An error on a hard grounder to the hot corner scored the runner from third and opened up the gates for a Bruins attack.
“They kind of got the jump on us early in the game, got some breaks early in the game and took advantage of them,” Sun Devil coach Craig Nicholson said.
ASU senior starting pitcher Mackenzie Popescue began the game in the circle but was pulled after only 2.1 innings. In her time, she gave up five runs and six hits and walked three before senior Dallas Escobedo stepped in for her third appearance against the Bruins in one weekend.
This is Popescue’s third rough outing in a row after a difficult time in Eugene, Oregon, and a less than satisfactory outing to begin the game against UCLA on Friday.
Nicholson said the plan was to pull Popescue regardless of the runs that were scored early. Her role was to make it through the lineup twice before Escobedo stepped in because Nicholson “liked the matchup of Dallas against their eight, nine hitters.”
Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, the plan did not work out the way he thought it would.
Escobedo was hammered just as hard in the circle as her starter was, giving up seven hits and four runs of her own.
It’s unusual for Escobedo to throw three games in a row, and over the series she threw 18 of the 23 innings pitched. This is dangerous against talented offensive clubs that can study the pitching style, and Escobedo said there is fatigue to think about as well.
“My arm was a little sore,” Escobedo said. “I felt like I wasn’t throwing as hard as I could…They made the adjustments and I wasn’t at my best.”
The Bruins’ pitching staff didn’t run into the same problem.
Junior pitcher/ first baseman Ally Carda pitched in all three games in the series against the Sun Devils, and even in the final innings against the talented junior the Sun Devils were no closer to figuring her out than when they started.
Carda only gave up one hit in nearly five innings in the circle and was responsible for much of the trouble on Friday.
She was a menace for the Sun Devils all series, which Nicholson said is because “she is probably the hardest thrower that we’ve seen all year.”
The only memorable moment ASU had was in the first inning, when a leadoff single was followed by a home run from senior shortstop Cheyenne Coyle that gave the Sun Devils their only lead of the game.
Carda was not to blame for this, but instead it was senior pitcher Jessica Hall that was responsible for giving up the long ball. Hall only pitched one out in the game but gave up three of the Sun Devils’ four hits and allowed both of their runs.
Coyle said the key to the Bruins’ pitchers was staying on top of them and not allowing first-pitch strikes to shape the at-bat.
“That was just being aggressive and really trying to not let them get ahead of me,” Coyle said. “I think that’s what they really like about all their pitchers: They get ahead of batters.”
This is the second straight series ASU has lost, which is a not the way many of the seniors wanted to remember their last regular season game home at Farrington Stadium.
There is solace that both losses came against the only teams more highly ranked in the nation than the Sun Devils themselves, but ASU now has to worry about how its postseason seeding will look.
The games for the first round of regionals will be decided on Sunday and will most likely take place at Farrington Stadium.
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