Video by Nolan Kwit | Sports Reporter
The champion of the Tempe Regional was determined by a matter of inches.
The last hit of the game was cruising to land over the fence to win the finale game for ASU softball, but Michigan caught it against the wall in center to upset the ninth seeded Sun Devils (46-12-1) 5-4 and eliminate them from the postseason.
It seemed laughable for the Wolverines (45-15) to win the two consecutive games they needed to advance to the Super Regionals, especially on ASU’s home field, where it has been so dominant all year. But after a disappointing opening game loss for coach Craig Nicholson and his players, the elimination game that came to the final swing of the bat was absolutely heartbreaking for the Sun Devils.
“The toughest part is we didn’t play bad, we just didn’t get breaks when we needed to get breaks,” Nicholson said. “Obviously I feel terrible but mostly for these (seniors).”
The Sun Devils had the lead entering the seventh inning of the second game but back-to-back home runs off senior pitcher Dallas Escobedo put the Wolverines ahead of the expected victors.
With two outs and one runner on, junior catcher Amber Freeman stepped to the plate with the weight of a season on her shoulders. The pitch was thrown, the ball was hit and the crowd went wild.
It was a drive to deep center that would end the dreams of one team, while sending the other on the fight another day.
The Sun Devils could almost taste the dramatic walk-off victory, but senior Wolverine center fielder Lyndsay Doyle leapt to catch the ball and ended the season for ASU.
“Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t,” Nicholson said. “If that ball is six inches higher then we’re having a whole different conversation.”
The seventh inning home runs off Escobedo put the Sun Devils in a precarious situation coming to their final at-bats, but that’s what can happen when one pitcher faces a team for three straight games like Escobedo did.
“I think it’s just maybe the reps that they’ve seen me so much,” Escobedo said. “You can only hide so many different things when they see you about eight or nine times in a day.”
It’s no surprise that home runs finished the game as there were nine total on the day from the two teams. Both teams opened their first innings of the day with two-run shots over the fence that would set the pace for the rest of the evening.
By the end of the night the tension could be felt in the air and players were desperate to get one base safely. It was a head-first dive into first base from senior center fielder Alix Johnson that helped keep the final inning alive and give ASU any chance it could get at a win.
“Before my at-bat it kind of hit me that it could potentially be the last at-bat that I ever have at Farrington Stadium,” Johnson said. “I’ve never done that before in my entire career so it was kind of my emotions and instinct took the best out of me.”
The end seems premature for a Sun Devil team that is almost a regular at the Women’s College World Series at this point , but Michigan will be the team to move on to Super Regionals and see how far their journey will take them.
Unfortunately for the senior class, their dream to repeat the World Series Championship that they won as freshmen will never be fulfilled, but they are not ashamed of what they’ve accomplished.
“It’s hard right now, but I wouldn’t change a thing that happened,” senior right fielder Bailey Wigness said about her four years playing for ASU softball. “We all grew together and we accomplished a lot and I’ll always be very proud of that.”
The Sun Devils are finished for the year, but Michigan moves on to take eighth seeded Florida State in a best-of-three Super Regional series to determine who moves on to the final championship.
Reach the reporter at Nkwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit