EUGENE, Ore – In a series that featured two of the top teams in the Pac-12 and the nation, neither the third-ranked Arizona State University softball team nor the top-ranked Oregon Ducks could claim supremacy at the conclusion of the weekend as Sunday’s rubber match ended in a rain-shortened, 2-2 tie.
The game included two rain delays with the second one occurring in the bottom of the sixth inning. The teams waited out the 36-minute delay and eventually had an opportunity to complete the inning. When play resumed the Ducks (47-6-1, 18-2-1) had an opportunity to bring the winning run home as they had a runner on first with one out. However the Sun Devils (43-8-1, 14-5-1 Pac-12) would come through with their trademark resiliency as pitcher Dallas Escobedo struck out the first batter she faced after the delay and then got the second one to pop out.
In the end, an uncharacteristic confluence of time- and weather-related issues forced the game to be called.
“We knew when we went back out there that it would probably be the last inning,” ASU head coach Craig Nicholson said of the bottom half of the sixth inning. “The field conditions were far from great, but we wanted to make sure we got in what we committed to get in before the game started.”
Although it was not the result the team hoped for, Nicholson said he was pleased with what he saw on Sunday.
“I thought we did a better job of dealing with the conditions and not letting them affect the way we went out and played the game,” said Nicholson.
It seemed fitting on this day that it was Mother Nature that accounted for the first significant action of the contest as heavy rain started to fall prior to the top of the third inning causing a 34-minute interruption. Prior to the delay the Devils had one baserunner in the second inning (two-out single by Bethany Kemp) and the Ducks had two in the bottom of the second (both coming on walks).
The Ducks had runners on first and second with only one out in the bottom of the third, but Escobedo, who fanned seven batters, responded by forcing a pop-up in the infield and followed that with a strikeout to end the inning.
A leadoff double by Amber Freeman in the top of the fourth inning provided ASU with its first serious scoring opportunity of the afternoon. Allie Butterfield, who came in to pinch run for Freeman, advanced to third on a sacrifice fly to center by Haley Steele. Unfortunately for the Devils, a shallow fly ball to left field and a strikeout would leave Butterfield stranded at third.
The Ducks commenced their half of the fourth with a pair of singles to put runners at first and second. However, that’s as far as they would advance as the Devils got the lead runner on a fielder’s choice for the first out of the inning. Escobedo struck out the next Duck looking and then forced a fly out to keep the game scoreless.
Given what had happened in the previous inning it seemed just a matter of time before hits started to turn into runs. That’s exactly what would happen in the fifth inning, which started with a single by Chelsea Gonzales. Nikki Giard would follow by taking Oregon hurler Cheridan Hawkins’ pitch over the left field fence for her first home run of Pac-12 play and her third of the season to give ASU a 2-0 lead.
The Devils would eventually chase Hawkins from the game after Alix Johnson got to first on a walk and Cheyenne Coyle followed with a single.
Oregon relief pitcher Jasmine Smithson was able to stymie ASU’s offensive surge as she came in and got two groundouts to end the inning.
“Nikki’s home run was big, but I thought we left a little bit on the table after the pitching change,” said Nicholson of the missed opportunity to pad the lead even more.
The Ducks would come back with two runs of their own in the bottom of the fifth to knot the score at 2-2. Although they gave up the lead, the Devils, like the Ducks in the top of the fifth, averted what could have been an even more damaging inning. After reeling off three consecutive hits (single, double, single) to score the two runs, Oregon had the momentum and a runner on first with no outs. However the Devils would quickly douse Oregon’s flame with a double play and then got out of the inning with a pop fly.
The Devils would go down in order in the sixth before the rain delay that ultimately brought the game to a premature end started shortly after Oregon started batting in its half of the sixth inning.
Although the Ducks are still in the driver’s seat to win the Pac-12 regular season title, an anticlimactic feeling remained following the conclusion, or lack thereof, to Sunday’s game.
“We thought coming in that it was going to be a great series and I think that’s what it turned out to be,” said Nicholson. “We talked about not coming in as underdogs and that it’s about who goes out and plays the best. We did it once (on Friday), they did it once (on Saturday) and today was a tie.
“I think we match up really well. Both teams have a lot of really good athletes, both teams have quality pitching and I think there is a chance we may see them again at some point.”
The Sun Devils conclude the regular season later this week when they host No. 2 UCLA at Farrington Stadium. Games will take place on Thursday (7 p.m. PT), Friday (5:30 p.m. PT) and Saturday (3:30 p.m. PT). All three games will be televised lived by Pac-12 Networks.