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Late-inning heroics lead No. 10 Utah to victory over No. 23 ASU softball

The Sun Devils allowed four runs in the seventh and ultimately fell to the Utes, 7-6

ASU junior pitcher Breanna Macha (99) pitches the ball during game one of a three game softball series versus the Oregon State Beavers at Alberta B. Farrington Softball Stadium in Tempe, Arizona on Saturday, March 25, 2017. ASU won 8-0.
ASU junior pitcher Breanna Macha (99) pitches the ball during game one of a three game softball series versus the Oregon State Beavers at Alberta B. Farrington Softball Stadium in Tempe, Arizona on Saturday, March 25, 2017. ASU won 8-0.

After opening its three-game set against No. 10 Utah with a thrilling come-from-behind walk-off victory, No. 23 ASU softball dropped a heartbreaker Saturday afternoon by a final of 7-6 at Farrington Stadium. 

With the loss, the Sun Devils (27-13, 6-8 Pac-12) snapped a four-game win streak

"Offensively, we out-hit them, we scored runs today, we just didn't get big pitches and we didn't play clean defense," head coach Trisha Ford said. "We talked at the beginning of this series that whoever takes advantage of those errors is going to come out and get a 'W.'"

After holding a slim lead for the majority of the game, everything unraveled for ASU in the top of the seventh inning. Freshman starting pitcher Giselle Juarez (5-4, 2.28 ERA) put the first two batters on base before being relieved by junior pitcher Breanna Macha.

Utah then picked up the tying run on an error before a two-run double by senior outfielder Kay Kay Fronda gave the Utes a 6-4 lead. The final run came across with two outs on a difficult pop-up that went untouched in the infield, as ASU received a taste of its own late-inning medicine from the previous contest. 

The Sun Devils picked up two runs in the bottom of the seventh on a home run by redshirt junior infielder Margaret Stahm, but it was too late. 

"They had a seeing-eye ground ball that found some dirt with nobody there and before you know it it's two on and nobody out in the seventh," Ford said. "We were putting Macha in to change the scenery a little bit and see what she could do, she got us a ground ball and we just didn't finish it, and that's going to happen."

Coming off of Friday's walk-off, the Utes (29-9, 11-4 Pac-12) didn't take long to respond with the bats. In the first inning, a hard-hit double off the wall by freshman outfielder Alyssa Barrera set up for a one-out two-run bomb by senior second baseman Hannah Flippen, who also knocked in the first two runs of the series opener. 

Despite the early struggles, Juarez calmed down to retire the next 11 batters she faced after the home run. She went on to allow five hits and four earned runs while fanning four in six innings. 

"I thought she threw well," Ford said. "It's been a while since she's thrown a seven-inning complete game. She was working from behind too often and that's something that usually concerns me a little bit, but she's got good stuff to work her way out of it."

The Sun Devils quickly answered back in the bottom half of the first, picking up a few key one-out singles to set up for senior shortstop Chelsea Gonzales, who delivered with an RBI single to cut the deficit in half. Freshman Emma Ramelot, with two outs, knocked in another run with a single into left to tie things up at two.

While the next inning went far differently on offense for the Utes, who went down in order, ASU's bats stayed alive through the second. The first two Sun Devils to bat each singled, but were stranded at second and third after advancing on a passed ball.

With Juarez in business on the mound, the Sun Devils took advantage in the third and gained their first lead of the game, 4-2, on a two-run bomb by sophomore outfielder Fa Leilua, her eighth of the season.

"I just told myself 'I'm looking for a hard pitch.' I'm tired of all the changeups that I had to deal with yesterday," Leilua said. "I finally found the count and I told myself to keep it simple, see a pitch, hit a pitch, and that's what I did, kept it simple as possible."

With two outs and two strikes in the fourth, Juarez looked set to retire an 11th straight batter, but a dropped pop-out led to a home run by junior third baseman Heather Bowen. Still, the freshman worked her way out of the inning with a 4-3 lead intact by retiring the ensuing batter.

She stayed in command until the seventh despite her team leaving the bases loaded in both the fourth and fifth. Although they recorded 10 hits for the game, the Sun Devils stranded a total of 11 runners on base. 

"It's a difficult game," Ford said. "You're hitting a moving ball with a round thing and it's coming 70 miles an hour, it's much harder than it looks, and we just didn't get that big hit today."

The series finale between ASU and Utah is set for Sunday at 11 a.m. at Farrington Stadium in Tempe. 

"I think we're prepared for game three," freshman outfielder Brianna Wise said. "It was a very close game, we fought back, when they punched back we punched back, and I think we're ready for tomorrow and we can win the third game."

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