No. 12 ASU softball splits season-opening doubleheader in the Kajikawa Classic

The Sun Devils won against Western Michigan but lost to Missouri in the nightcap

As fans walked into Farrington Stadium on Friday night, ASU senior outfielder Morgan Howe and her teammates prepared to kick off the new season in Tempe. 

With a handful of key players having graduated or transferred following the end of last season, which saw the team appear at the Women's College World Series, the Sun Devil softball team looked to start its new chapter with the doubleheader in the Kajikawa Classic.

ASU ultimately split the season-opener, winning 8-4 against Western Michigan but losing the nightcap, 8-0, on run-rule in five innings against Missouri. Last season, which saw ASU finish 48-13 and advanced to the WCWS, the Sun Devils only lost once to an unranked opponent.

“It is always nice to play in Farrington,” ASU coach Trisha Ford said. “It is home. You are always more comfortable here…We just didn’t put it together that last game.”

No. 12 ASU (1-1) made an impact early in Game 1 against the Broncos as Howe showed her baserunning ability. Howe made it to first base on an error, then advanced to second, followed that with a steal to third, and then took home on another error to score the first Sun Devil run in 2019.

However, WMU (0-2) stole that momentum quickly in the third inning. After tying the game, the Broncos hit back-to-back doubles to score three more runs and took a 4-1 lead. 

In the bottom of the third, ASU junior outfielder Kindra Hackbarth jumpstarted the offense as she hit a lead-off double and advanced to third on an error. Howe followed with another double to score Hackbarth, then the Sun Devils cut the deficit to 4-3 when junior shortstop Jade Gortarez scored Howe on a fly-out.

Hackbarth, who also hit a double and scored in fourth inning, and Howe are the “pulse” of the Sun Devil offense and lead the lineup, Ford said.

“They love it,” she said. “They love that responsibility. They love that pressure.”

ASU regained the lead in the fifth inning when sophomore first baseman DeNae Chatman, who walked twice previously, hit a lead-off home run to centerfield. In the next inning, Howe provided insurance runs with a three-run home run to give ASU an 8-4 advantage, ultimately giving junior transfer pitcher Samantha Mejia from Fresno State a win in her debut game.

Howe lead the charge with her two hits and four RBIs. Hackbarth, Howe and Chatman, the 1-2-3 hitters for ASU finished with six hits, including three doubles and two home runs, six RBIs and five runs combined. ASU senior outfielder Skylar McCarty also had a double.

The Sun Devils' performance took a turn in Game 2 against Missouri as Hackbarth, Howe and Chatman only combined for one hit, a single in the fifth inning.

Missouri (2-0) run-ruled Utah earlier on Friday and brought a similar energy against ASU in the nightcap, blitzing the Sun Devils in the first inning. After a hit-by-pitch, a single and a walk, Missouri freshman designated hitter Geana Torres stepped to the plate and blasted a two-out grand slam off redshirt junior transfer pitcher Cielo Meza from Long Beach State.

As ASU struggled to dig its way out of the early deficit, Tigers sophomore outfielder Callie Martin added a three-run home run off Meza in the third to give Missouri a 7-0 lead. 

Howe said this is a situation that can’t happen again.

After losing an entire pitching rotation, including star left-handed pitcher Giselle ‘G’ Juarez to Oklahoma as a transfer, ASU had questions about its pitching coming into the season. 

While Meza, who earned a spot in the 2019 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Watch List, and Mejia pitched well in Game 1, Meza struggled against Missouri – allowing five hits, eight earned runs, four walks and a hit-by-pitch in four innings. Ford replaced Meza with freshman Mikayla Santa Cruz for the fifth inning.

“(Meza) is going to get better,” Ford said. “(Mejia) is going to get better. (Santa Cruz) is going to get better and we have another pitcher Abby (Anderson), who is going to get some innings, as well. We are just going to figure out how things go and transition."

Ford said she wasn’t pleased with the performance against Missouri though, especially after the deficit increased. Although she said she wasn’t necessarily disappointed with the outcome, Ford said she felt ASU lost its fight in the final innings.

Hackbarth echoed her coach, saying she understands there are many things the team can improve upon.

“It is just things that we are going to pick up on, and we are going to just get better from here,” she said.

Despite loss in the nightcap and all the improvements she felt can be made, Howe said she was still excited for the season to come. She said she was impressed with the fans who stayed until 10:45 p.m. in the 40-degree weather.

“If there were that many people here for Friday night and Kajikawa, I can’t imagine who is going to be out here for conference,” Howe said.


Reach the reporter at nahiatt@asu.edu or follow @NATE_HIATT on Twitter.

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