Although some improvements were made on Saturday afternoon, there wasn’t a reflection on the scoreboard as ASU softball continues to play within its recent struggles.
No. 21 ASU (25-13, 5-6) played with an improved energy early in the matchup, but No. 1 UCLA found a groove to win 9-0 in six innings at Farrington Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. ASU will play the series finale against the Bruins at 4:00 p.m. MST Sunday.
With this performance, ASU now been outscored 37-0 in the past five games, extending the scoreless drought to 28 innings.
“It is hard, but … (the coaches) believe in us and we believe in ourselves, so we are just going to keep fighting,” junior outfielder Kindra Hackbarth said.
UCLA (34-1, 8-0) finished with four home runs, and star redshirt junior pitcher Rachel Garcia (15-0) – the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year last season – ended with 12 strikeouts, increasing her total to 159 in 97.1 innings and lowers her season ERA to .50.
With the recent struggles, ASU coach Trisha Ford decided not to stay complacent as she completely swapped the batting lineup. Sophomore infielder Bella Loomis, who normally bats ninth in the order, was the only Sun Devil to stay in her usual spot.
Ford wanted to see what would happen, and she said she thought the changes helped as ASU had better approaches at the plate. Despite playing against Garcia, who Ford deems as a special player, ASU created chances in nearly every inning until late in the game.
ASU drew a few walks in the first inning. In the second inning, junior catcher Maddi Hackbarth hit a lead-off double down the right field line, and Kindra Hackbarth had a single through the middle in the third inning. Then, in the fourth inning, junior infielder Jade Gortarez had the third and final hit for ASU, a double down the left field line, and sophomore designated player Kiara Kennedy was hit by a pitch.
Garcia ended every opportunity with a strikeout.
“We were playing for each other better,” Ford said. “We had better focus. … We just got to get that one hit. … There was a lot of good things to build upon. It is just now about getting over that hump.”
UCLA has a lethal lineup at the plate, and it showed again as the Bruins had 10 hits, including a solo home run from redshirt sophomore designated player Aaliyah Jordan in the third inning and a two-run shot from senior infielder Taylor Pack in fifth.
In the sixth inning, UCLA added a three-run home run from junior outfielder Bubba Nickles and, then, another home run from Jordan, a two-run shot for the fourth home run.
Kindra Hackbarth said that she and her teammates knew things would be difficult in conference play, and she added that ASU realizes nothing will get much easier in this stretch.
“At this point, we just have to stick to ourselves and believe in ourselves in order to keep growing and getting better,” Hackbarth said.
Although the result definitely isn’t ideal, Ford said her team has started to move in a better direction, especially offensively. Hackbarth still has faith that ASU could win a game in this series against UCLA before the Sun Devils travel to play No. 7 Washington next weekend.
“If we come out tomorrow with a higher energy and more intense, I just think we are going to get them,” Hackbarth said.