ASU softball holds on for wild win over Utah
TEMPE, Ariz. -- For the second consecutive night, the seventh-ranked Arizona State softball team took an early lead and never gave it up, though Friday's 4-3 victory over Utah was a bit more suspenseful than the team might have wanted.
Nikki Girard threw out the potential game-tying run at the plate for the final out of the contest to preserve the victory and ensure that Cheyenne Coyle's three-RBI performance didn't go for naught as the Sun Devils won their fourth consecutive Pac-12 series in front of 1,156 at Farrington Stadium.
Coyle put ASU up early with a homer over the scoreboard in left field -- her ninth of the season -- in the bottom of the first inning following an Alix Johnson leadoff single, giving the Sun Devils an early 2-0 lead.
First-inning leads and home runs have been a big part of ASU's success this season, with the Sun Devils improving to 18-0 when leading after the first and 28-2 in games in which they hit a home run.
The Devils (37-6, 11-3 Pac-12) didn't come by this one easy however, as the Utes (16-18, 3-10 Pac-12) picked away at the lead one run at a time.
ASU got one more in the bottom of the second when Alix Johnson drove home Bailey Wigness from first with a gapper to right-center to make it 3-0.
But Utah answered in the top of the third, as Anissa Urtez brought home Chalese Hadley with a single down the left-field line to get the Utes back within two.
Coyle responded with another big hit in the fifth, as she brought in Chelsea Gonzales with a hard-hit ball off the wall in left field for what would prove to be the eventual game-winning RBI.
Utah got one back in the sixth inning that could have been far more problematic for the Sun Devils. After a leadoff out, the Utes picked up three straight singles to load the bases with one out. Bella Secaira brought one of those home on a groundout, and a Mariah Ramirez pinch-hit walk reloaded the bases with two outs. Mackenzie Popescue came through in the clutch, however, forcing another groundout to end the inning without any further damage.
ASU was unable to add any insurance in the bottom of the sixth, setting up a dramatic and somewhat quirky ending.
Kate Dickman reached on a fielder's choice in the top of the seventh, advanced to third on an infield error and scored on a Bridget Castro sacrifice fly to make it 4-2.
With runners on first and second and two outs, Marissa Mendenhall hit an infield dribbler that Nikki Girard charged. Girard had all her momentum going toward home plate, which turned out to be helpful as the Utah third-base coach waved Urtez around from second to try for the tying run. Girard made the throw to Katie Aguirre with Urtez only about halfway down the third-base line, setting up an easy tag for the game-ending out.
Popescue earned the win, improving to 18-1 overall and 5-0 in Pac-12 games. The senior struck out two, walked three and hit two batters while giving up two earned runs on seven hits.