ASU softball lacks timely hitting in Pac-12 opening series
The ability for the ASU softball team to rack up runs has been proven time and time again, but in its opening Pac-12 series against Oregon State, timeliness was the downfall as the Sun Devils (27-5, 1-2 Pac-12) lost two of their three games.
Friday brought a loss for the Sun Devils in their opening game of the Pac-12 season against the Beavers (11-16, 2-1 Pac-12), and while senior starter Dallas Escobedo was a spectacle on the mound, recording 15 strikeouts to match her career high, it was the bats that lagged behind.
These were the same struggles the Sun Devils faced in the Louisville Slugger Invitational weekend where they suffered their first three losses. Strong pitching and defensive work lead the team but missed plate opportunities shape the game.
The Sun Devils would score early, but the Beavers battled back for superiority after the third and held on for the rest of the game. Runners got on base, and there was even a bases loaded situation in the fourth, but they couldn’t put together the pieces they needed for a rally, losing 3-2.
Sunday’s game followed almost the same model. Escobedo in the circle striking out 10 batters and allowing only one earned run in the 3-1 loss, while the bats would gain seven hits, most not when they needed it most.
Despite the low scoring games, coach Craig Nicholson said his players hit well and that a lot of the outs were unfortunately placed hits.
"Almost every out we made was a hard hit ball, and sometimes we just hit them right at people," Nicholson said. "We just hit into some bad luck."
The Sun Devils left seven runners on base Sunday and stranded 11 on Friday. They also had at least as many hits as the Beavers in each game, yet had nothing to show for it.
Thankfully for the Sun Devils, the weekend series against one team gives the opportunity to re-evaluate a team and adjust to their style of play.
They came out hungry on Saturday for their first victory in Pac-12 and played like an entirely different team.
Offensively, they "did a good job bouncing back after Friday's game," Nicholson said, with eight of nine starters finishing with hits.
Senior right fielder Bailey Wigness was moved from the ninth to the second spot in the lineup for the first time this season, and the changed worked wonders as she gained three hits, walked and helped lead the eventual 11-0 run-rule victory.
Senior center fielder Alix Johnson and junior first baseman Bethany Kemp both launched home runs while the team piled on six runs through four innings and added another five in the fifth to end the slaughter.
The Sun Devils faced different pitchers from Friday to Saturday, but making adjustments to teams is crucial against other Pac-12 teams.
"Once you get into conference play, everyone knows everyone a little bit better, and you have to make those adjustments," Nicholson said.
Senior pitcher Mackenzie Popescue had all the help she could ever want from her offense, while throwing her third shutout of the season and moving to a team-leading 14 wins.
The three-game series shows the obvious weak link for the Sun Devils. The power is there to accomplish great things at the plate but when the team isn’t rolling they struggle to get the wheels moving and force the runs they need across.
The Sun Devils have not come from behind in any game this season after the fifth inning.
This is not the way the Sun Devils would have liked to open the Pac-12 season, but there is still much more softball to be played as they look at the Stanford series beginning Saturday back home at Farrington Stadium.
Nicholson said winning the Pac-12 championship is obviously a goal for the team and that these games are hugely important for the season. Now it's just a matter of making it happen out on the field.
"We've got to find that consistency back," Nicholson said. "I thought two out of three games we played well but you have to play 21 outs in every game and sometimes we have to do better on that.”
Reach the reporter at Nkwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit