(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
The no. 3 ranked Arizona State Sun Devils suffered their first loss of the season on Thursday losing 3-2 to unranked South Carolina.
Arizona State did not fall short on chances, as they went 1-10 with runners in scoring position all night.
That never hurt them worse than in the final inning of the game.
Having only allowed three hits through the first six innings, Gamecocks freshman pitcher Nickie Blue looked to complete the shutout of the Sun Devils, something that hadn’t been done in the regular season since May, 2012. But after Elizabeth Caporuscio was hit by a pitch, Bethany Kemp stepped up to the plate. Kemp found herself down 0-2 but didn’t panic and connected on the next pitch for her sixth homer of the season to get the Sun Devils within a run.
Keeping the rally going, freshman designated player Chelsea Gonzales doubled, and sophomore second baseman Nikki Girard singled, giving ASU runners on the corners with nobody out. Senior right fielder Bailey Wigness then tried unsuccessfully to set up a squeeze play and struck out, bringing senior short stop Cheyenne Coyle to the plate. Coyle worked the count to 2-2 but couldn’t capitalize and popped out to second. Alix Johnson followed by working herself to a full count with a base open and the powerful Amber Freeman on deck. Johnson aggressively swung and drove the ball hard to left but right into the glove of left fielder Alaynie Page, ending the game and the Sun Devils perfect season.
“We had opportunities all night but we couldn’t get a hit when we needed it,” Nicholson said. “You can’t waste that many chances against a good ball club and expect to win.”
Part of the offensive woes were thanks to a dominant performance in the opposing circle, as South Carolina starter Blue pitched a complete game allowing two runs on six hits while striking out five.
“She did a great job of hitting her spots and keeping the ball down in the zone while keeping us off-balance with a good changeup,” Freeman said.
Coach Nicholson echoed those same sentiments.
“She located and changed speeds well,” Nicholson said. “We chased too much late in the game and weren’t able to adjust.”
Dallas Escobedo matched Blue in the circle for the most part, the only blemish being a two-run homer to Chelsea Hawkins in the fourth inning. Escobedo pitched a complete game allowing three runs on five hits while striking out 11.
“I told the team after the game that personally I don’t think that team is better than us and that on a different day when we are at our best and they are at theirs and the outcome be different,” Escobedo said.
The Sun Devils were down two runs after six but in the top of the seventh South Carolina was able to squirt across a run after a leadoff double from Hawkins. Hawkins later scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Ashlyn Masters to extend the Gamecocks lead to 3-0.
“That was a huge run in the ballgame and changed the momentum a little but we gave ourselves a chance to tie the game, but didn’t capitalize,” Nicholson said.
Despite the loss, the team seemed pretty optimistic after the game.
“We are not gonna go 56-0, we are going to lose at some point but like Dallas said [in the postgame team huddle] we are a great team and will come back and kick the next team’s butt,” Freeman said.
“Great teams lose but great teams bounce back too.”
Nicholson was positive as well.
“If we come back tomorrow and respond like we should then its not the worst thing in the world,” Nicholson said “There are some positives in what we did but we just need to relax in those bigger situations and get better pitches to and put good swings on them.”
Arizona State will try and bounce back on Friday at 7 p.m. against Florida International. South Carolina now moves to 14-2 while ASU falls to 18-1.