ASU softball clinches series win over Arizona
TEMPE, Ariz. — Thanks to a four-run fifth inning, the 11th-ranked Arizona State softball team defeated eighth-ranked Arizona 4-1 on Saturday night to clinch the series and a Territorial Cup point.
The Sun Devils (32-5, 6-2 Pac-12) drew 10 walks in the game, Chelsea Gonzales hit a three-RBI double as a pinch hitter in the fifth and Mackenzie Popescue dominated in the circle for the Sun Devils, who earned their fifth straight victory in front of a sell-out crowd of 2,239 at Farrington Stadium.
"We really did a good job of getting some pitches to hit that we could extend on," ASU coach Craig Nicholson said. "What we did taking pitches tonight really did more for us than what he did hitting pitches, although we did have a couple big hits on the night."
The ASU offense needed needed some time to figure out Arizona pitcher Kenzie Fowler, who stranded 10 batters through the first four innings of the game while allowing just two hits.
While the Wildcats (28-8, 3-5) managed to escape several binds in the first couple innings, Fowler’s struggles to find the strike zone — with just 65 strikes on the night out of 139 pitches — eventually caught up to her in the fifth.
With ASU trailing 1-0 heading into the bottom of the frame, Fowler gave up one of her 10 walks on the evening to put Cheyenne Coyle on base. Two batters later, the senior came all the way home from first on a gapper to left-center by Elizabeth Caporuscio to knot the score.
Nikki Girard reached on a walk in the next at-bat, and two batters later, Alix Johnson — the Pac-12 leader in walks drawn entering the weekend — drew her fourth walk of the game to load the bases with two outs. That brought to the plate Gonzales, who was pinch-hitting for Bailey Wigness, and the freshman came up big, lining a base-clearing double to the gap in right-center to plate all three runners and give ASU the all the offense it would need behind Popescue’s gem of a performance.
A day removed from Dallas Escobedo’s 16-strikeout, one-run outing against the nation’s top offense, Popescue brought some stuff of a different kind — with the same impressive result.
"I really thought she did a good job tonight, and the biggest thing for her was there were no walks," Nicholson said of Popescue. "She was really attacking the hitters, changing speeds very well and hit her spots."
The senior pitched a complete game, giving up eight hits and allowing just one run, with that coming in the first inning. Popescue finished with four strikeouts and zero walks on 111 pitches, 74 of which were strikes.
The win was the 16th of the season for Popescue, who improved to 16-1.
The ASU defense contributed to the senior starter’s strong performance, with Alix Johnson making a diving grab in center in the sixth inning and Nikki Girard making several suberb plays at second base.
"The biggest piece of tonight is I thought we played really good defense," Nicholson said. "I know we had a couple errors, but we made a lot of really good plays tonight, and Nikki Girard made a lot of those, and that catch Alix (Johnson) had to lead off the sixth was huge."
The Wildcats’ lone run came on an RBI single from Chelsea Goodacre that brought in leadoff hitter Hallie Wilson in the top of the first.