Video by Nolan Kwit | Sports Reporter
Friday’s game may have started slow for ASU softball, but a rally in the fifth inning closed the door on Dartmouth for an 8-0 run-rule victory to begin the Sun Devils’ (45-10-1) postseason.
The Sun Devils were able to catch an early lead that would have been enough for a win against a Big Green (31-18) squad that only had one hit on the day, but the real action was a six-run fifth inning capped off with a walk-off two-run homer from sophomore second baseman Nikki Girard.
“I saw three pitches in three at-bats, so my plan was to go get her early and just get a good pitch and drive it,” Girard said.
The game winning home run came in a string of hits that followed a relatively slow offensive outing for a Sun Devil offense that, on paper, greatly outmatched their opponent.
The mismatch is a part of what coach Craig Nicholson thinks affected his team’s offense against the Big Green.
Junior Kristen Rumley pitched the entire game in the circle for the Big Green and her ERA (1.86) and win-loss ratio (18-7) were not the difficulty, but the slower speed of her pitching compared to some of the more talented teams the Sun Devils faced in recent weeks was difficult to adjust to.
“The tough thing I think for the hitters today is they haven’t seen that type of velocity for the whole Pac-12 season,” Nicholson said. “It’s a challenge just seeing something that you haven’t seen a lot recently… even if it’s slower.”
Nicholson’s lineup is filled to the brim with talented upperclassman, but it was freshman designated hitter Chelsea Gonzales who first squared up on Rumley.
With a runner on second, Gonzales hammered one that everyone could tell was over the fence as soon as it left the bat.
Had the fifth inning rally never happened, the Sun Devils could have won with Gonzales’s home run behind a nearly flawless performance in the circle from senior Dallas Escobedo.
She gave up only one hit and struck out eight in the five innings, but modestly said she didn’t feel like her usual self throwing in the bullpen before the game.
“I didn’t feel at my best, so (it was) just kind of going from the bullpen to the field and just trying to throw hard,” Escobedo said. “Going out to the field is a whole different mentality.”
Escobedo was dominant from the start and struck out the first four batters she faced.
The victory against the Big Green places the Sun Devils in a game Saturday at 3 p.m. against Michigan, which won an afternoon game against San Diego State University to put it in the winner’s bracket.
Only one team can move on from the Regional weekend to Super Regionals the following week, so losing at any time can be detrimental to a team.
But the day’s slow start for ASU has no correlation to the rest of the postseason, Girard said.
“It’s another game,” she said. “We’re going to focus on us, and if we play ASU softball, there’s no doubt in my mind we’ll come out with the W.”
Reach the reporter at Nkwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit