TEMPE – On the heels of a four–run fifth inning, the No. 11/8 Arizona State University softball team (32-5, 6-2 Pac-12) defeated the No. 8/9 University of Arizona Wildcats, 4-1, to clinch the series and a Territorial Cup point in the process on Saturday night in Tempe, Ariz.
The Sun Devils drew 10 walks in the game, Chelsea Gonzales hit a three-RBI double as a pinch hitter in the fifth and Mackenzie Popescue pitched some truly nasty stuff in the circle for the Sun Devils as ASU picked up its fifth straight victory in front of a sell-out crowd of 2,239 at Farrington Stadium.
“We really did a good job of getting some pitches to hit that we could extend on,” ASU head coach Craig Nicholson said after the game. “What we did taking pitches tonight really did more for us than what he did hitting pitches, although we did have a couple big hits on the night.”
The Sun Devil offense needed some time to figure out UA’s senior pitcher, Kenzie Fowler, stranding 10 batters through the first four innings of the game while managing just two hits in the process.
While Arizona (28-8, 3-5) and Fowler did a good job of escaping several binds in the first couple innings, the Wildcat pitcher’s struggles to find the strike zone (just 65 strikes on the night to 139 total pitches) eventually caught up to her in the fifth.
With ASU trailing 1-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth, Fowler gave up one of her 10 walks on the evening to put Cheyenne Coyle on base and the senior came all the way home from first on a gapper to left center by Elizabeth Caporuscio two batters later to even the game at one.
Nikki Girard would reach on a walk on the next at bat and two batters later, Alix Johnson – the Pac-12 leader in walks drawn entering the weekend – drew her fourth walk of the game to load the bases with two outs on the board.
That brought Gonzales to the plate, pinch hitting for Bailey Wigness, and the freshman showed no shines on being afraid of the limelight as she lined a base-clearing double to the gap in right to plate all three baserunners and give ASU the all the offense it would need behind Popescue’s gem of a performance.
A day removed from Dallas Escobedo’s 16-strikeout, one-run performance against the nation’s top offense, Popescue brought some stuff of a different kind and the result was the same.
“I really thought she did a good job tonight and the biggest thing for her was there were no walks,” Nicholson said of Popescue’s performance. “She was really attacking the hitters, changing speeds very well and hit her spots
The senior pitched a complete game, giving up eight hits but allowing just one run in the first inning before pitching six scoreless innings of softball. Popescue had great movement all night on her pitches, keeping the Wildcats guessing as she racked up four strikeouts and zero walks on 111 pitches, 74 of which were strikes.
It gave Popescue her team-leading 16th victory of the season as she improved to an impressive 16-1 on the year.
Popescue had plenty of support behind her on defense, with Alix Johnson making a diving grab in center in the sixth inning and Nikki Girard making several suberb plays at second base.
“The biggest piece of tonight is I thought we played really good defense,” Nicholson said. “I know we had a couple errors but we made a lot of really good plays tonight and Nikki Girard made a lot of those and that catch Alix (Johnson) had to lead off the sixth was huge.”
The Wildcats solitary run came from an RBI single from Chelsea Goodacre, driving in lead off hitter Hallie Wilson in the top of the first.
ASU’s first opportunity came in the bottom of the second as Wigness singled to center and Katee Aguirre tried to round the bases from second but was thrown out at home to end the threat.
The Sun Devils will close out the series against Arizona on Sunday 7 p.m. at Farrington Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on the Pac-12 Networks with J.B. Long and Tammy Blackburn on the call.