No. 6 ASU softball drops two out of three games to No. 1 UCLA

Despite losing their series to the Bruins, the Sun Devils make a strong case for the postseason

A top-10 heavyweight bout between No. 1 UCLA and No. 6 ASU took place over the weekend in Pac-12 softball. Going into the clash, UCLA was 48-3, and they hadn’t lost to ASU at home since 2013.

With the hopes of changing that narrative and securing a high seed heading into the NCAA tournament, ASU showcased themselves in somewhat of a postseason warm-up at Easton Field, and both teams were as good as advertised.

Game One: Thursday, May 10

Both teams buckled in for a pitchers' duel between two of the best collegiate softball pitchers in the country: ASU sophomore pitcher Giselle “G” Juarez and UCLA redshirt sophomore pitcher Rachel Garcia. In the end, ASU came away with a 3-0 victory courtesy of one swing of the bat. 

With both offenses fighting to mount any sort of firepower in the first three innings of the game, ASU lit a spark in the fourth inning. After freshman first baseman Danielle Gibson was hit by a pitch, and junior center fielder Morgan Howe laid down a bunt single, ASU had its first real chance to strike against Garcia.

In a 1-0 count, ASU redshirt senior Marisa Stankiewicz got a pitch up in the zone and did not miss her opportunity. Stankiewicz launched a deep fly ball over the left center field wall, which would prove to be the difference in a tight game.

“We were joking in the dugout to try and do something to get on top of (Garcia's) rise ball, we were joking around to tomahawk it,” Stankiewicz said. “All I was thinking was 'just get on top of the ball' because she had got us and we were swinging and missing under it every single time. So, if I was going to miss, it was going to be on top (of the ball).”

That one swing was all pitcher Juarez needed to secure an ASU win. 

The southpaw would finish the game with nine strikeouts while allowing just three hits, and the performance marked the first time all season that UCLA had been shutout at home.

“We played ASU softball,” Juarez said. “We didn’t worry about who they were or what they were ranked. We don’t worry about that stuff. We stayed in our bubble and we came up with timing and big hits ... we played our game."

Game Two: Friday, May 11

In game two, the Sun Devils lost 5-1, but the score might not have been indicative of the final outcome. Through five and a half innings, both sides were knotted at one.

Garcia was once again dealing in the circle for UCLA, while ASU senior pitcher Breanna Macha matched her by mixing speeds and using pinpoint control to keep the Bruins offense off balance.

However, one sequence of events would prove to be ASU’s downfall in the bottom of the sixth inning. 

Aaliyah Jordan, UCLA redshirt freshman outfielder and NFCA Division I Freshman of the Year candidate, stepped to the plate after a leadoff single and proceeded to launch an opposite field two-run home run to put the Bruins up 3-1.

Following the homer, ASU committed two errors and the Bruins made the miscues hurt by plating two more runs. Garcia then put a bow on the game by recording a stress-free seventh inning to create a rubber match heading into Saturday.

Game Three: Saturday, May 12

On UCLA’s senior day, UCLA senior utility player Madeline Jelenicki hit a game-winning walk off home run in extra innings to lift the Bruins past ASU 2-1 in nine innings.

ASU freshman infielder DeNae Chatman hit her second home run of the weekend to give the Sun Devils their lone run of the game.

In the circle, Juarez was opposed by the UCLA combo of Garcia and freshman pitcher Holly Azevedo

Both teams played a highly competitive game, and although ASU dropped two out of three to the No. 1 team in the country, the Sun Devils made a strong case that they deserve to be one of the top-eight seeds heading into Selection Sunday.

"I think if (the selection committee) looks at our body of work, all of our games were very close," said ASU head coach Trisha Ford. "I think this bodes well for us just a day before that decision comes out. One of the things that I believe they look at is kind of where you are headed and are you trending up or are you trending down, and I definitely think that we are trending up ... Tomorrow, I am anticipating it to be something that our players deserve and this program deserves."

Selection Sunday for the postseason begins Sunday, May 13 at 7 p.m. on ESPN2, and the postseason will begin with the NCAA Regionals on Friday, May 18. 

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