TEMPE – In a season that has had its fair share of pitching duels, the Arizona State University softball team’s Pac-12 home opener was all about the offense as the Sun Devils were able to defeat the visiting Stanford Cardinal, 16-15, in a nine-inning, high-scoring contest in Tempe, Ariz..
The Sun Devils rallied from a two-run deficit in the bottom of the seventh inning to come back and claim the victory on the night when a season-high 2,176 fans sold out Farrington Stadium.
Alix Johnson robbed two home runs in center field, had the game-tying RBI double to force extra innings and finished with four runs and Nikki Girard was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth forcing home the game-winning run.
“I did my best and gave my best effort in trying to get the ball both of those times out there,” Johnson said. “I have 27 great teammates and knew that one of them would get the job done if it wasn’t me.”
Arizona State (28-5, 2-2 Pac-12) scored at least in eight of the nine innings played as the team improved to 2-0 in extra innings this season, scoring 16 runs on 16 hits and eight of the team’s nine starters picking up at least a hit. Six Sun Devils logged multiple hits in the game, including Amber Freeman (3-for-4), Bethany Kemp (3-for-5) and Chelsea Gonzales (3-for-6). Gonzales, Elizabeth Caporuscio and Haley Steele all logged three RBI in the game.
Unfortunately, the Cardinal (23-8, 1-3 Pac-12) had just as potent of an offense on the evening. Shortstop Kylie Sorenson was phenomenal, going 3-for-5 with five RBI and a home run. Catcher Jessica Plaza finished the game 4-for-6 while first-baseman Kayla Bonstrom went 3-for-6 as part of a 17 hit, 15-run performance that matched the total number of runs given up in ASU’s five total losses combined this season and were 11 more than ASU had given up in any single game this season.
Dallas Escobedo eventually picked up the win for the Sun Devils, starting the first four innings and re-entering in the seventh inning to improve to 12-4 on the season on a stat line she would likely rather forget, giving up seven earned runs in 6.2 total innings pitched with eight strikeouts and three walks on a season-high 163 pitches.
Despite giving up a season high in runs, Escobedo did what she needed to do to get the win. After giving up a three-run home run to her first batter upon reentering in the seventh, Escobedo didn’t allow any more runs and escaped out of another bases loaded jam in the seventh following the home run.
In two extra innings, Escobedo gave up two hits and a walk but struck out three and never gave Stanford a real opportunity to retake the lead.
The Sun Devil win marked the first time this season that ASU had come back to win after trailing following the fifth, sixth or seventh innings of games this season.
“Wins like that can really put a team in the right frame of mind,” head coach Craig Nicholson said after the game. “Even though it was an ugly game, finding a way to win it can really help us in the long run.”
The Sun Devils looked to have the game relatively in hand heading into the seventh innings with a 13-7 lead and needing just three outs to close things out but that’s where the struggled really began as the Cardinal would put up an eight-spot on the inning to regain the lead.
After ASU got the first out of the inning, Stanford was able to load the bases and score one on a single by Tylyn Wells, who stealthily dodged a tag on the first base line on a short grounder that kept the bases loaded and brought home Bessie Noll to bring the lead within five.
Popescue then walked Leah White, forcing home a run and making the score 13-9 with only one out. A defensive miscue on the infield allowed Stanford to score again and brought Kylie Sorenson to the plate with the bases loaded.
And – like she did all night - Sorenson delivered, smashing a double into the gap in left center and scoring two more for the Cardinal to bring Stanford back within one at 13-12.
Head Coach Craig Nicholson then went back to Escobedo, who pitched the first four innings, to try and protect ASU’s 13-12 lead. With runners on first and second, Escobedo gave up a three-run home run to Ashby. The blast put Stanford back on top, 15-13, and its first lead since the top of the second inning.
Escobedo then gave up two hits and walked another, and Stanford had the bases loaded once again. But the Cardinal couldn’t capitalize more than they already had, and headed into the bottom of the seventh with a two run lead.
Kemp led off the seventh with a double and advanced to third base on a wild pitch, and was able to score on a two-out single by Gonzales to bring the Sun Devils back within 13-12 of the Cardinal.
Down to the last out of the game, it was Johnson who came up big yet again for the Sun Devils. Johnson rocketed a hit down the left field line and Gonzales raced home all the way from first, just barely ducking under the tag at home to tie the game at 15.
Bailey Wigness then stepped up to the plate with a chance to win the game for Arizona State. Farrington Stadium erupted after it seemed like a weak ground ball by Wigness scored Johnson, who had advanced to third on the previous throw to the plate. But the first base umpire called the ball foul and Wigness was able to battle her way to a walk. Jennifer Soria, pinch-hitting for Katie Aguirre, then grounded out to first to end the inning and send the game into extras..
No runs were scored by either team in the eighth inning, and Stanford was unable to score in the top of the eighth, but not for lack of trying on Stanford’s part. With a runner on first, Sorenson lined a long foul foul to right center that looked sure to be over the fence before a leaping grab by Johnson robbed Sorenson of the home run and saved the game for the Sun Devils.
ASU was unable to capitalize in the bottom half of the inning and the Cardinal could not plate anyone in the top of the ninth, sending the game to the decisive bottom half of the inning.
Sierra Rodriguez walked to open the inning and advanced on a infield grounder by Caporuscio. Gonzales came up with her second big hit of the latter half of the game, sending Rodriguez to third on a single to left.
Johnson would then walk to load the bases with one out Nikki Girard stepped up to the plate in a pinch hitting role with a chance to win the game for ASU. Girard was hit by the very first pitch of the at-bat by Wells, forcing home Rodriguez and ending the game.
The 31 total runs scored obliterated the ASU record for total runs in a Pac-12 Conference game that was previously 23 in a 13-10 victory over Arizona in 2011. The most runs in a game between Stanford and ASU prior to tonight were 20 in an 2012 11-9 Sun Devil victory. Both teams set new school records for runs scorer against each other in the contest.
Stanford shortstop Kylie Sorenson got the scoring started in the top of the first, smashing a two-run home run over the center field wall to give the Cardinal the early lead. What followed was an incredibly high-octane offensive display from both teams, with many lead changes and a ton of scoring.
Freeman knocked in Johnson after her single to center field was mishandled by Stanford outfielder Cassandra Roulund in ASU’s half of the first and the Sun Devils were able to take the lead in the bottom half of the second inning as a Gonzales two-run home run gave ASU a 3-2 lead.
Arizona State was able to add to their lead as Steele’s solo home run gave ASU a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the third inning. Caporuscio followed with a two-run double, and ASU took a 6-2 lead into the fourth inning.
Stanford responded as Plaza hit a monster two-run home run in the top of the fourth to bring Stanford within one run, 6-5.
But ASU came right back as Steele’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fourth scored Johnson and advanced Bailey Wigness to third. Wigness then scored on a sacrifice fly by Cheyenne Coyle. Bethany Kemp then singled to center field and advanced to second when Stanford’s attempt to throw out pinch runner Abby Spiel, who moved up from first base. Spiel then scored on the next pitch on a passed ball to give ASU a 9-5 lead. Kemp then scored from third on a single by Caporuscio, giving the Sun Devils a 10-5 lead.
But the scoring didn’t stop there.
Bonstrom scored on a double by Sorenson, who then scored on a sacrifice fly by Noll three batters later to make the score 10-7 to keep things interesting in the fifth.
ASU then countered right back in their half of the fifth inning as Haley Steele lined a double down the left field line, moving Freeman to third and scoring Johnson and giving the Sun Devils an 11-7 lead. Coyle then drew a walk, loading the bases for Kemp.
Kemp was able to be patient, and after seven pitches, was on her way to first base after drawing a walk. The walk scored Freeman, and put Arizona State ahead 12-7 after five innings.
In the top of the sixth, Stanford was able to give Arizona State a scare, methodically loading the bases. But with two outs, but Mackenzie Popescue was able to get Erin Ashby to ground out to keep ASU’s five run lead intact.
Arizona State was able to build on their lead, as Johnson scored her fourth run of the game on a passed ball. Steele then popped out with runners on second and third, and the Sun Devils headed into the wild seventh inning with a 13-7 lead.
The two teams will return to action on Sunday at Farrington Stadium at 7 p.m. PT/MT for the second game of the series and the first game this season for the Sun Devils that is set to be broadcast nationally on the Pac-12 Networks.