ASU softball clinches Southern Mississippi series with pitching domination
ASU softball won its second game against Southern Mississippi Saturday to clinch the series behind another powerful pitching display from senior Dallas Escobedo that kept the Golden Eagles (22-27) scoreless for a 6-0 ASU victory.
Escobedo threw 16 strikeouts on the night for the Sun Devils (41-7, 13-4 Pac-12) and tied her career seven-inning strikeout record. She also got herself out of two consecutive innings early in the game by sitting down three straight batters on strikes with no outs and runners on second and third.
Interestingly enough, Escobedo said she did not feel like herself tonight and was not confident in her pitches until later in the game.
“Honestly (I felt) terrible. Not a good day I felt like and going out there I wasn’t really feeling it until about the fourth or fifth,” Escobedo said. “Then I finally felt like my speed was back up and I could hit my spot and work with the corners. I just kind of went with it and it turned out pretty good.”
Pretty good is an understatement for a shutout performance that she completely dominated. Escobedo gave up six hits on the night and walked only two to pick up her 20th win of the season.
Escobedo is not the only one who felt the team didn’t start how it should have as coach Craig Nicholson said his team did not look ready to play when it first stepped on the field.
“I thought we were a little flat tonight to tell you the truth,” Nicholson said. “I just felt like we weren’t sharp early in the game.”
He went on to mention that even though there were no errors on the night the defense could have been playing more strongly, especially in the second and third innings when Escobedo encountered trouble with the first two leadoff batters reaching base safely.
“We’re fortunate that we have (Escobedo) on the mound and she can get herself out of those jams, whether she creates them or whether someone else creates,” Nicholson said.
The offense had a slow start of its own but reached base and scored in the third off a double from senior shortstop Cheyenne Coyle.
That was the turning point in the game with the Sun Devils scoring five more in the fifth and sixth innings as Escobedo took full control in the circle.
Nicholson said that generally getting that first run can help a team relax but that it was “a matter of plate discipline.”
The Sun Devils adopted a more patient attitude at the plate and walked three batters in four plate appearances to load the bases in the fifth inning. There could not have been a better player in the lineup to load the bases for as junior third baseman Haley Steele has been molten hot the past weeks and kept it going with a two-RBI single up the middle.
The sixth inning would not go much better for the Golden Eagles as they allowed three more runs off a two-RBI single from Coyle and a sacrifice fly from junior catcher Amber Freeman.
Sophomore Jenn Soria would score half the runs on the night for the Sun Devils after walking twice and doubling in the sixth. Soria is not a normal starter in the Sun Devil lineup and has executed well in the series as some of the upperclassmen rest before the postseason.
“It was definitely different from last night,” Soria said. “Last night I was anxious, so tonight I knew how to adjust and get more comfortable and patient.”
Soria played first base on Friday while junior Bethany Kemp rested a wrist that Nicholson said is still “tender” after taking a pitch off it, but today she was moved to right field Saturday to cover for senior Bailey Wigness who was taking time to rest her foot that she took a foul ball off of Friday.
Nicholson has said that this week is important to rest the starters and try to rejuvenate them while they have the chance, while giving players like Soria an opportunity to get playing time so they’re prepared later in the season.
Nicholson said he’s fortunate to have someone like Soria that can be a utility player and step into whatever the situation calls for. While this may make some players nervous, Soria says it’s what she lives for.
“I’m kind of conditioned to be in a situation where if my name gets called I need to prepare myself and get out there really quickly, so I’m used to that,” Soria said.
Nicholson said it’s likely to see Soria in another new position in Sunday’s game as he looks to rest anybody else who may need it.
Following Nicholson’s plan from Friday, senior pitcher Mackenzie Popescue should begin in the circle for the Sun Devils for their final game of the series against the Golden Eagles beginning Sunday at noon.
Reach the reporter at Nkwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit