ASU softball advances to Regional finals with freshman’s home run

Video by Nolan Kwit | Sports Reporter

Who would have thought a freshman would make waves like this in the postseason?

ASU softball advanced to the regional final after taking down Michigan 4-1 in seven innings on Saturday thanks to a three-run home run from freshman designated hitter Chelsea Gonzales that gave the Sun Devils (46-10-1) the lead they needed to win.

Gonzales stepped to the plate with two out on the board after the Sun Devils scored their first run of the game on an error to third that tied the score 1-1 in the fourth. She must have liked the feel of her homer in game one of regionals because with one swing she sent another long ball over the fence in center and set the score where it would stay for the rest of the game.

 

 

“I just wanted to move the base runners over,” Gonzales said. “Luckily I made an adjustment my second at-bat…to just get off the plate a little bit and not get jammed this time.”

The hit put the wind back in sails of a Sun Devils squad that opened up slowly against junior pitcher Haylie Wagner (22-4), who forced constant ground outs, including a double play in the second.

But it only took once through the lineup before the Sun Devils took notice of Wagner’s pitching style and coach Craig Nicholson changed the tactic at the plate.

“Our approach today was really just to work to stay inside the ball and we made some adjustments in the middle of the game,” Nicholson said. “We may have been a little over aggressive early on but I think that we did a better job the second time through the order and making sure that we made an adjustment and that we got a pitch to go with that adjustment.”

The Sun Devils spread their offense across the roster and gained six hits off five different batters.

The Wolverines (43-13) fell to ASU earlier this year in a 2-0 game in the Judi Garman Classic, but they also took the Sun Devils out of the WCWS in 2013.

Senior pitcher Dallas Escobedo (24-7) stepped in the circle for the second time in two days to square off with the Wolverines and their intimidating offense that holds the player with the best average in the league, sophomore shortstop Sierra Romero (.503).

“We kind of just came at this game saying that we know they’re a good team,” Escobedo said. “We know what they’re capable of but kind of just (stuck) with our game plan.”

Escobedo succumbed to an early scare when the Wolverines hit safely three times and scored a run in their first at-bats of the game. Any anxiety subsided with the termination of the inning and Escobedo only gave up one hit the rest of the game.

Senior Mackenzie Popescue generally throws game two after Escobedo opens a series, but Nicholson says that he trusts Escobedo’s talent, especially in the postseason.

“When it comes down to it Dallas (Escobedo) is the person that, in my opinion, gives us a great opportunity to win against good ball clubs,” Nicholson said. “She wants the ball in the post season and I’m going to give her the ball.”

Michigan plays Saturday evening against the winner of the afternoon game with San Diego State University taking on Dartmouth. The winner of the evening game takes on the Sun Devils on Sunday for the finale.

ASU only has to win one game on Sunday to move on to Super Regionals. For the Sun Devils to be eliminated, they’d have to lose two in a row in the heat they’re used to, on their home turf, with a stadium of fans cheering them on.

The Sun Devils have a history of dominance at Farrington Stadium and the advantage is highly in their favor, but taking two games to move on is something that Nicholson is going to let his players consider.

“We won’t come out tomorrow thinking they’ve got to beat us twice,” Nicholson said. “We’ll come out tomorrow playing the first game and going out there and getting after it.”

The finale games in the Regional series begin at Farrington Stadium at 2:30 p.m.

 

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