(Photo:Sun Devil Athletics)
A wild game ended in controversy as the No. 9 Arizona State Sun Devils defeated the No. 23 Stanford Cardinal 16-15 in nine innings on Saturday night.
In a game filled with close calls, the Sun Devils (25-8, 2-2 Pac-12) got the winning run when Nikki Girard, normally a starter but appearing as a pinch-hitter, was narrowly hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning. The call was very close and many in the stands and on the field admitted to not being sure of the call.
“I couldn’t really tell from where I was at,” Sun Devil head coach Craig Nicholson said of the call after the game. “If it hit her, it grazed her.”
The controversial ending came after the Sun Devils had to rally to force extra innings in a game they seemed to control throughout.
Leading 13-7 at the start of the seventh inning, the Sun Devils allowed eight runs, giving the Cardinal (23-9, 1-3 Pac-12) their first lead since the first inning. The late collapse was highlighted by Erin Ashby’s three-run home run off of Dallas Escobedo who struggled throughout the night. Escobedo was actually pulled in the fifth inning for Mackenzie Popescue but re-entered the game in the seventh inning as Popescue struggled and appeared frustrated by a strike zone that seemed tight.
As they had done all game, the Sun Devils responded with RBI hits from Chelsea Gonzales and Alix Johnson with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game.
“We never quit. We never gave up. I’m very proud of my teammates and how we performed and I just think that shows that we have a lot of heart,” Johnson said, who led the Sun Devils with four runs scored and made two home-run-saving catches in the game.
Despite the admittedly ugly nature of the win, the Sun Devil players, as well as coach Nicholson, think playing in this type of game could be beneficial going forward.
“In the long run it may do more for us to have to win a game like that and come back in the seventh inning and have a lot of things go wrong and still find a way to win,” Nicholson said. “I think wins like that sometimes really put a team in the right frame of mind.”
The Sun Devils came into the game looking to rebound after struggling offensively in two road losses to Oregon State last weekend. In the win against the Cardinal, the Sun Devils’ offense looked great as they scored in every inning except the eighth. Seven different hitters recorded RBI for the Sun Devils, led by Haley Steele, Elizabeth Caporuscio and Chelsea Gonzales who each had three.
In the end, the Sun Devils and Cardinal combined for 31 runs on 33 hits and 22 walks. The runs scored and allowed were season highs for both teams, who pride themselves on strong pitching.
“Their hitters did a really nice job tonight. Obviously, they were very well-prepared for what they were going to see,” Nicholson said. “The pitching change slowed them down a little bit, for a little while and then they adjusted back to what [Popescue] was doing. So we’re going to have to go back and take a look at what pitches they hit well and what we feel like we need to do to get them out.”
The Sun Devils feel confident that they can continue to hit well against the Cardinal and that Mackenzie Popescue can bounce back from her tough outing as she will get the start in Sunday’s game.
First pitch of game two between the Sun Devils and Cardinal is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sunday night at Farrington Stadium in Tempe and will be televised on the Pac-12 Network.