(Photo:Sun Devil Athletics)
The Territorial Cup series trophy could be coming to Tempe soon after the No. 11 Arizona State Sun Devils defeated the No. 8 Arizona Wildcats 4-1 on Saturday night to secure the series win.
The Sun Devils (32-5, 6-2 Pac-12) were disciplined on offense, drawing ten walks from Kenzie Fowler who dropped to 5-3 for the Wildcats (28-8, 3-5 Pact-12). Several players, like center fielder Alix Johnson recorded zero or one at-bat. However, the Sun Devils struggled again to hit with runners on base, stranding 11.
“We had some tough at-bats with runners in scoring position early in the game,” head coach Craig Nicholson said. “But that’s the thing we talk about as a group. Keep grinding away and we did that tonight.”
The Sun Devils finally broke through in the fifth inning when, after a walk, Cheyenne Coyle scored from first base on an Elizabeth Caporuscio double to center field. Later in the inning, Nikki Girard and Johnson each drew walks to load the bases when Nicholson decided to go to his bench and put in freshman Chelsea Gonzales to pinch hit for Bailey Wigness. Gonzales responded with a double to center field, driving in three runs to give the Sun Devils the 4-1 lead.
“I was taking deep breaths, just calming myself down, slowing down my at-bat” Gonzales said. “At first I missed my pitch but then the second pitch I just drove it to right-center.”
“It’s funny, [Fowler had] thrown inside so much tonight, we know she was going up there looking for something inside,” Nicholson said of Gonzales’ at-bat. “And what she hit was not something inside with two strikes. You got to be able to adjust. You got to be able to react to what they do and she did a great job of that in that at-bat.”
Starting pitcher Mackenzie Popescue was solid throughout the game for the Sun Devils, giving up only one run early in the game and allowing no walks in seven innings, improving her record to 16-1.
“I really just went out there and tried to take one pitch at a time and not let my emotions get the to me because we all know I can get a little heated,” Popescue said after the game. “My girls had my back the entire game. From first pitch to the last pitch they were keeping me in that game better than ever.”
The Sun Devils committed two errors in the game but overall put together a solid defensive performance against the Wildcats, who came out very aggressive. The defensive play was highlighted by center fielder Alix Johnson’s diving catch to save a lead-off base hit in the sixth inning.
The lone run for the Wildcats came in the first inning when Chelsea Goodacre drove in Hallie Wilson from second base with a single to center field. After that, Popescue and the defense locked down, stranding eight baserunners in the game.
The Sun Devils have secured the series win but admitted now they are looking for the series sweep against their in-state rivals in the final game of the series on Sunday.
“You go into a series thinking, ‘Hey, if we get two out of three that’s great. We’re in great shape.’ Now, you don’t think like that anymore. So now we come out tomorrow and get right back after it,” Nicholson said.
First pitch of game three between the Sun Devils and Wildcats is scheduled for 7 p.m., Sunday at Farrington Stadium in Tempe.