ASU softball pulls away from Cal

TEMPE, Ariz. — Haley Steele hit two home runs and the seventh-ranked Arizona State softball team broke open a tight game in the fifth inning en route to a 10-2 victory over Cal in six innings Saturday.

Mackenzie Popescue buckled down after a tough first inning, pitching five scoreless innings after giving up two in the first to pick up her team-leading 17th victory of the season, improving to 17-1 overall and 4-0 in Pac-12 action.

The Sun Devils (34-6, 8-3 Pac-12) launched three home runs in the contest and scored eight runs combined in the fifth and sixth innings to break open a 2-2 game while using a flurry of exceptional defensive plays to force an early end to the action.

Despite the final score, it was Cal (20-13, 3-3 Pac-12) that put the pressure on early. Cheyenne Cordes reached on a leadoff walk and came home two batters later when Danielle Henderson laced a line-drive home run to left field to put the Golden Bears up 2-0 in the bottom of the first.

The Sun Devils wasted no time responding in the top of the second, however, as Steele launched a leadoff shot to dead center to bring ASU back within one run.

Bethany Kemp and Nikki Girard then reached on back-to-back one-out walks and advanced to second and third on a Katee Aguirre flyout to right field to bring up Bailey Wigness, who lined one between the shortstop and third baseman for an RBI single that evened things up at 2-all.

That’s where the score would stay for the next two and a half innings while the Sun Devil defense fended off several Golden Bear opportunities.

The first of the plays actually came in the bottom of first, as Nikki Girard fielded a high chopper behind the second base bag and threw out Alex Robben at home from her back foot. Girard would then make another impressive play in the bottom of the third, diving to stab at a ball that look sure to trickle into right field and making the throw to first from her stomach for the out.

Later in the inning, Alleah Laxamana dropped a two-out single into center with two on, and Alix Johnson fired it to the catcher from center for the tag at the plate and an end to the inning, keeping things even at 2-2.

In the fifth, the ASU bats got going again. With pinch runner Abby Spiel on base and one out, Bethany Kemp and Nikki Girard hit back-to-back single to load the bases. Spiel was forced out at home on a Sierra Rodriguez pinch-hit fielder’s choice to keep the bases loaded with two outs.

That brought up pinch hitter Chelsea Gonzales, who continued her hot hitting by launching a long fly ball to the gap in left that just squeezed in between the left and center fielder for a base-clearing three-RBI double to give the Sun Devils a 5-2 lead.  

Cal would threaten in the bottom half of the inning, however, as Cordes continued her impressive day with a leadoff single to left. Henderson singled two batters later to put two on with just one out, but Popescue picked up a much-needed strikeout of Robben for the second out of the inning. Kostreba reached on a single up the middle with two outs to load the bases, but Popescue struck out Vanessa Alvarez to get out of the jam and maintain ASU’s lead.

The Sun Devils repaid her by blowing the game open in the top of the sixth inning.

It started with a leadoff walk to Cheyenne Coyle. Amber Freeman then singled for her second hit of the game to bring up Steele, who sent a shot over the left-field fence for her second homer of the game to put ASU up 8-2.

Caporuscio followed with her team-leading 14th double of the season to bring up Kemp, who added the icing on the cake with her team-leading 10th home run of the season to extend the margin to 10-2, the eventual final.

Popescue would close things out in the bottom half of the inning, finishing the game with four strikeouts, two walks and just two runs allowed on nine hits.