ASU softball eliminated from tournament by Michigan

TEMPE, Ariz. — The ninth-seeded Arizona State softball team was eliminated from the NCAA tournament Sunday, as Michigan’s Lyndsay Doyle robbed Amber Freeman of what looked to be a potential two-run walk-off home run to seal a come-from-behind 5-4 victory for the Wolverines in the winner-take-all finale of the Tempe Regional.

"Obviously, it was a tough day for us.  The toughest part is we didn’t play bad — we just, you know, we didn’t get breaks when we needed to get breaks," ASU coach Craig Nicholson said. "I really though we competed hard today. I feel terrible, mostly for the (seniors)."

After dropping a 4-3 decision to Michigan in the first game Sunday, the Sun Devils (46-12-1) had to face the Wolverines for the fourth times this season and third time this weekend later in the day, and the result was a back-and-forth affair with a suitably dramatic ending.

With ASU clinging to a 4-3 lead in the top of the seventh, Michigan’s Sierra Lawrence launched her second home run of the game to left field to tie the score at 4. That brought Taylor Hasselbach to the plate, and she took the first pitch she saw over the wall in right-center to put the Wolverines up 5-4.

After a leadoff groundout by Bailey Wigness to open the bottom half of the inning, Alix Johnson reached on an infield single that culiminated in a head-first dive into first base to beat the tag and give ASU a runner on with one out.

Cheyenne Coyle then popped up to third base to bring up Amber Freeman with two outs. Freeman drilled a line drive to deep center field that was snagged at the wall on a leaping grab by Doyle, robbing Freeman of an apparent walk-off home run and sending Michigan (46-13) into the Super Regionals to take on Florida State in Tallahassee.

""I did think it was out, and their center fielder made a great play," Nicholson said.  "Again, that’s what I am talking about: Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t.  If that ball is six inches higher, we are having a whole different conversation."

Dallas Escobedo took both losses on the day to finish the season with a 24-9 record. She had seven strikeouts in the deciding game while allowing 12 hits and two walks. Escobedo, a senior, finishes her college career with a 115-26 record and 1,122 strikeouts, ranking second in ASU history in both categories.

"We all have our own memories, our own big games that we favor. Every opportunity to step on the field and play in this jersey, not a lot of people get that," Escobedo said of her time at Arizona State. "It may be just a game, but I have been thankful for every game that we have played together and being Sun Devils."

With the Devils trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the third inning, Johnson started an ASU rally with a leadoff home run to left-center to even the score. Two batters later, Freeman singled up the middle to bring up Haley Steele. Steele, who was 0 for 8 on the weekend prior to a single in the first inning, gutted out a lengthy at-bat that featured numerous foul balls before lining a bomb over the fence in left to give ASU a 4-2 lead. 

Lawrence brought Michigan within one with her first homer of the game, a solo shot to left-center in the top of the fifth that made it 4-3.

ASU went down in order in back-to-back innings in the fifth and sixth, unable to add any insurance runs.

Michigan got on the board first, as three of the first four batters of the game singled to load the bases. Escobedo struck out Lawrence for the second out of the inning, but back-to-back walks by Hasselbach and Lauren Sweet plated two runs to give the Wolverines an early 2-0 lead.

The Sun Devils got one back in the bottom half of the inning when Coyle scored from third on an infield error.

ASU finished the season 46-12-1 overall while going 15-7-1 in Pac-12 play to finish third in the conference.

In the early game, ASU came up just short in a 4-3 loss to Michigan, which had to win to force a decisive seventh game of the regional.

In a game in which homers accounted for every run, the Sun Devils took an early 2-0 lead on a Cheyenne Coyle homer but found their lead short-lived, as the Wolverines got homers from Sierra Romero in the bottom of the first and Caitlin Blanchard in the third to go ahead 4-2.

A homer from Chelsea Gonzales made it 4-3, but that was as close as ASU would get.