TEMPE -- For the second consecutive night, the No. 7/6 Arizona State Softball team picked up an early lead and never gave it up, though Friday’s 4-3 victory over the Utah Utes was a bit more suspenseful than the team might have wanted.
Nikki Girard threw out the potential game-tying run at the plate for the final out of the game to preserve the victory and ensure that Cheyenne Coyle’s three-RBI performance didn’t go for naught as the Sun Devils won their fourth consecutive Pac-12 series in front of 1,156 at Farrington Stadium on Friday night.
Coyle put the Sun Devils up early on a bomb over the scoreboard in left field – her ninth of the season - in the bottom of the first inning following an Alix Johnson leadoff single, putting ASU up 2-0 in the early going.
First inning leads and home runs have been key to ASU’s success this season, with ASU improving to 18-0 when leading after the first and 28-2 in games where they hit a home run.
The Sun Devils (37-6, 11-3 Pac-12) didn’t come by this one easy however, as the Utes (16-18, 3-10 Pac-12) picked away at the lead one run at a time.
ASU got one more in the bottom of the second as Alix Johnson drove home Bailey Wigness from first with a gapper to right to make it 3-0.
But Utah answered in the top of the third as Anissa Urtez brought home Chalese Hadley with a single down the left field line to bring Utah back within two.
Coyle would prove to be the savior in the fifth – though no one knew it at the time – as she brought in Chelsea Gonzales with a hard hit ball off the wall in left field for what would prove to be the eventual game-winning RBI.
Utah got one back in a sixth inning that could have been far more problematic for the Sun Devils. After a leadoff out, the Utes picked up three straight singles to load the bases with one out.
Bella Secaira brought one of those home on a ground out and a Mariah Ramirez pinch-hit walk reloaded the bases with two outs. Mackenzie Popescue was up to task, however, forcing another groundout to end the inning without any further damage.
ASU was unable to add any insurance in the bottom of the sixth, setting up a dramatic and somewhat quirky ending.
Kate Dickman reached on a fielder’s choice in the top of the seventh and advanced to third on an Sun Devil infield error, scoring on a Bridget Castro sacrifice fly.
With runners on first and second and two outs, Marissa Mendenhall hit a short infield grounder that forced Nikki Girard to charge the ball, giving her all the momentum going toward home plate she needed when the Utah third-base coach waved around Urtez from second to try and score.
Girard made the easy throw to Katie Aguirre with Urtez only about halfway down the third-base line, setting up an easy tag and the end of the game in the process.
Popescue was solid, as she has been all season, improving to 18-1 overall on the year and 5-0 in Pac-12 games.
The senior struck out two, walked three and had two hit by pitches as she gave up just two earned runs on seven hits.
ASU will return to the diamond tomorrow looking to complete its second consecutive sweep. First pitch is scheduled for 12 p.m. PT/MT and a live stream will be available via the Pac-12 website.