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Arizona State softball sweeps season-opening doubleheader

(Photo:Josh Frons)

The Arizona State softball players were excited to finally start the season as they took the field for the first time on Thursday for a day-night double-header. Fueled by a dominant pitching performance from Dallas Escobedo in the first game and an offensive explosion in the second game, the Sun Devils beat the Creighton Blue Jays 3-0 and the New Mexico Lobos 9-0 in the Kajikawa Classic.

Escobedo recorded 14 strikeouts and carried a no-hit bid into the top of the seventh inning when Blue Jay right fielder Alexis Cantu dropped a single into left field with one out. Cantu advanced to second on a passed ball but Escobedo was able to strike out the next two Blue Jay hitters, Bri Lingle and Jen Daro, to end the game. Afterward, Escobedo admitted she was upset she came so close but did not get the no-hitter.

“You keep it in your head and you don’t say anything that maybe you still have a chance,” Escobedo said, “And [Cantu] I knew it would be her. She was hacking all night.”

When asked if that was the type of performance to expect out of Escobedo, Sun Devil head coach Craig Nicholson said, “The pitching was kind of what we expect, and what they expect of themselves, maybe more importantly.”

On the other side, Becca Changstrom pitched well for the Blue Jays but gave up five hits and five walks in her six innings of work. The Sun Devils struck early in the bottom of the second as Elizabeth Caporuscio led off with a single followed by a double from Bethany Kemp. A ground ball from Chelsea Gonzales hit off the glove of Blue Jay shortstop Liz Dike into left field, allowing Caporuscio and Kemp to score.

The Sun Devils would earn another run in the fourth inning by being patient in their at-bats. With two outs, Nikki Girard was walked and advanced to second on a bunt single by Bailey Wigness. Cheyenne Coyle and Alix Johnson drew back-to-back walks scoring Girard and giving the Sun Devils a 3-0 lead they held the rest of the way.

Similar to game one, the Sun Devils struck in the second inning of game two. Caporuscio got another leadoff single but was forced out at second when Kemp hit a grounder to the Lobos shortstop. Kemp beat out the relay throw, avoiding the double play. Then, Kemp stole second base and scored on a single from Katee Aguirre giving the Sun Devils a 1-0 lead.

Things got tight in the third inning for the Sun Devils as starting pitcher Mackenzie Popescue struggled. Popescue walked Gabrielle Stacy and then surrendered singles to Mariah Rimmer and Chelsea Anaya, loading the bases with only one out.

Popescue would work out of the jam without surrendering any runs as she struck out Jasmine Casados and got Michaela Erickson to ground out to end the inning. Popescue later said she never felt nervous during the situation.

“I love pressure and that adrenaline,” Popescue said, “I know my defense is the best in the country so I wasn’t worried about it at all.”

Cheyenne Coyle led off the bottom of the third inning with the first home run of the season for the Sun Devils but did not stop there. Her next at-bat came in the fourth inning with the bases loaded and one out. Coyle crushed a 1-2 pitch to center field and gave the Sun Devils a 6-0 lead on the grand slam.

Amber Freeman then hit a solo home run and Haley Steele singled in the next at-bat, which ended the night for New Mexico pitcher Carrie Sheehan. Another walk for Nikki Girard and single from Katee Aguirre, both with the bases loaded, gave the Sun Devils a seven-run inning and a 9-0 lead.

Popescue took care of the Lobos quickly in the fifth inning, surrendering a leadoff single but getting two groundouts and striking out Michaela Anaya to end the game.

After the games, the players described how good it felt to finally be playing instead of practicing against the same players everyday. They also admitted to being a little bit nervous but coach Craig Nicholson said he was not nervous at all.

“It’s not one of those things where you get nervous before the game,” Nicholson said. “We got great players. We go out and we execute and we do what we got to do and we’re going to have success.”

Regarding the difference between the two games in offense, Nicholson said he felt the players were chasing pitches early in the count, something Cheyenne Coyle echoed after the game.

“You could see it when everybody was batting that they just weren’t looking like their normal selves,” Coyle said. “We definitely talked about that and about just relaxing and looking for a good pitch. Not getting ourselves out.”

The Sun Devils will need to be very focused and calm as they now set their sights on Friday night’s game against the North Carolina State Wildcats. First pitch is set for 7:30 p.m. at Farrington Stadium in Tempe.


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