TEMPE, Ariz. — The seventh-ranked Arizona State softball team opened the 2014 season Thursday with back-to-back victories to open up the Kajikawa Classic at Farrington Stadium.
Dallas Escobedo and Mackenzie Popescue each pitched a complete-game shutout on the evening as the Sun Devils defeated Creighton 3-0 and New Mexico 9-0 (five innings).
The wins gave first-year head coach Craig Nicholson the first two of his Sun Devil career.
ARIZONA STATE 9, NEW MEXICO 0 (5)
ASU closed out its season-opening doubleheader with a 9-0 victory over New Mexico (0-1) on Thursday night.
The Sun Devils took an early 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second when catcher Katee Aguirre singled home a run.
New Mexico (0-1) looked to get on the board in the top of the third with the bases loaded and only one out, but Sun Devil pitcher Mackenzie Popescue kept the Lobos at bay, striking out Jasmine Casados and throwing Michala Erickson out at first after making a nice snag on a liner.
ASU extended its lead with back-to-back homers by senior shortstop Cheyenne Coyle in the third and fourth innings. The first homer came minutes after a beautiful play at shortstop on which Coyle backhanded a ball that had reached the grass in left field and launched a missile off her back foot to get the runner at first.
Coyle’s second homer all but put the game away, as it was a grand slam to center field, giving the Sun Devils a commanding 6-0 lead over the Lobos. It was Coyle’s fourth career home run and her third as a Sun Devil. Coyle tied the school single-season mark for home runs last season with 20.
"I was really mad at myself after the first at bat," said Coyle, who flied out to center in the first. "I like being disciplined. I don’t like chasing a lot of pitches — whenever I do that, I kind of have to walk away and refocus everything, because I want the pitcher to bring me my pitch. Eventually, she did."
The Sun Devils put three more on the board in the bottom of the fourth. Designated hitter Amber Freeman homered to right center, Nikki Girard was walked with bases loaded, and Aguirre singled to left bringing Elizabeth Caporuscio home.
The game ended in the fifth via the run rule.
ARIZONA STATE 3, CREIGHTON 0
ASU began the 2014 campaign, its first under new coach Craig Nicholson, with a 3-0 win over Creighton (0-2) in the Sun Devils’ first game of the Kajikawa Classic.
The victory was due in large part to the performance of two-time All-American Dallas Escobedo. Escobedo, who was recently named to the USA Softball preseason watch list for Player of the Year, pitched seven innings of shutout ball, racking up 14 strikeouts and not allowing a hit until the top of the seventh inning, during Creighton’s last at-bat.
It was the second-highest strikeout total of Escobedo’s career in a regular-season game and gave the senior the 93rd victory of her career as she looks to overtake Katie Burkhart for the school record in career victories.
Escobedo was aided with the help of some excellent defensive play, including a leaping catch by center fielder Alix Johnson against the fence early in the game that might have saved a run as well as an inning-ending double play in the fourth.
While the bats struggled against All-Mountain Valley pitcher Becca Changstrom (0-1), the Sun Devils got the only cushion they needed from an unlikely source, as freshman designated hitter Chelsea Gonzales singled up the middle in her first collegiate at-bat to plate Elizabeth Caporuscio and Bethany Kemp and give ASU an early two-run lead. The Devils’ only other run came from a bases-loaded walk to Johnson.
With the victory, the Sun Devils improved to 38-7 on opening day since 1971. They have not lost a season-opening game since 1995.