ASU softball's three home runs pave way to third straight series victory
The power offense was on display again for ASU softball, as the Sun Devils hit three home runs to surge past California Saturday for a 10-2 run-rule victory in six innings.
The charge was led by junior third baseman Haley Steele, who went 4-4 on the night with two home runs. Steele’s first was a solo shot in the second inning with a two-run deficit, a hit that would begin a cycle of constant offensive pressure.
The Sun Devils' (34-6, 8-3 Pac-12) bats were active throughout but they piled on the runs in the fifth and sixth innings, gaining eight runs between the two to end the game early.
Freshman Chelsea Gonzales scored two off a bases-loaded situation in the first game of the series, and followed it up Saturday when she pinch hit and hit a three-run double in the fifth that fell between the center and left fielders.
That hit gave them the lead but they hammered in the final nail with a three-run homer from Steele and a two-run shot from junior first baseman Bethany Kemp in the sixth.
It's evident that the Sun Devils have power in the lineup, but coach Craig Nicholson stresses that home runs are fun, but they can't be thinking about that at the plate.
"I don’t know that it's all that important to hit home runs, I think it’s important to have quality at-bats," Nicholson said. "You can’t go out there trying to do that or you’ll most likely get out but when our girls have good at-bats and get their pitch good things can happen."
Freshman Katie Sutherland-Finch started in the circle for the Golden Bears (20-13, 3-3 Pac-12) but only pitched two outs into the second inning before she was replaced by sophomore Nisa Ontiveros.
Finch gave up two runs in her outing and lost the lead gained in the first, but Ontiveros wouldn’t find any better luck as the Sun Devils got at least two hits in each inning, reaching 15 total by the end of the game.
The Golden Bears did their best to help Ontiveros on the offensive side, but the Sun Devils played remarkable defense and stonewalled them after the first inning.
"I thought our defense was outstanding," Nicholson said. "We made some plays that were huge in the game especially early, we really kept them from having a potential big inning."
Senior Mackenzie Popescue was in the circle for the Sun Devils and while her pitching was on point, it was her sophomore catcher Katie Aguirre that proved what she could do with two perfect tags at the plate.
Senior center fielder Alix Johnson and sophomore second baseman Nikki Girard both threw lasers to stop the Golden Bears’ attacks at the plate, and Aguirre’s tags finished the job.
The Sun Devils looked absolutely dominant on the diamond and need to stay that way if they want a chance at being conference champions.
There is hardly any room for error or losses at this point in the season, especially while looking at conference leader Oregon, which still has a perfect 7-0 record in the Pac-12.
From here they are looking for the sweep and obviously hope that they can finish it out better than they could in their series against UA.
Nicholson said that preparation starts tonight with a good night's rest before they play much earlier than usual, at 11 a.m. in Berkeley, Calif.
Reach the reporter at Nkwit@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @NolanKwit