(Photo: Alli Cline/WCSN)
Arizona State softball set itself off on the right foot as well as it possibly could in their opening two games of the Littlewood Classic on Friday night at Farrington Stadium.
After defeating North Texas 10-2 in five innings in the first game of their doubleheader, the Sun Devils had a gutsy come-from-behind win against the Illinois State Redbirds by the score of 9-4.
Breanna Macha got the start for head coach Craig Nicholson to close out Friday night, and got possibly the freshman’s best start in her young ASU career. After giving up a grand slam to Jordan de los Reyes put Illinois State on top 4-1, Macha retired 8 straight batters following the blast and finished with seven innings pitched, eight hits allowed and nine strikeouts.
ASU got the scoring started in the second inning on an RBI single by sophomore catcher Sashel Palacios, her second of the season.
Macha’s catcher for the evening, Palacios raved about the freshman pitcher’s performance.
“Breanna’s a special kid. She committed a long time ago, and she’s been dying to wear this jersey, and I think she does a really good job of presenting herself as a Sun Devil…and I think that’s something that this club has needed for a really long time.”
Some Sun Devil fans might’ve thought that ASU was heading for another disappointing loss early in their season after the de los Reyes grand slam, but the team answered right back with a Sierra Rodriguez single, an Elizabeth Caporuscio double, and sacrifice flies from Haley Steele and Amber Freeman to make the score 4-3 Redbirds.
That mark held until the pivotal sixth inning, when sophomore shortstop Chelsea Gonzales and Palacios led off with back-to-back home runs which put ASU on top 5-4 and for good.
Palacios had a simple mindset going into her at-bat following Gonzales’ equalizer. “I told myself, ‘Don’t get too big, don’t get too excited.’ I’m lucky enough that it went out. I thought I popped it up.”
The dagger for Illinois State was yet to come however. Following the Gonzales and Palacios dingers, two-time All-American Amber Freeman came up later in the sixth with the bases loaded and a chance to put the game out of reach.
Freeman cracked a grand slam the other way into right field, making the score 9-4 Sun Devils.
Freeman was ecstatic that she was able to help her team in such a crucial spot.
“It was awesome. I mean I don’t really have anything else to say except that I was really pumped,” Freeman said with a laugh. “I love hitting coach’s hand and going into my teammates and they’re screaming at me and I’m screaming at them. It’s just a great feeling.”
Illinois State put up one last fight in the seventh however, as they loaded the bases with two outs for none other than de los Reyes, but Macha got the better of her when it counted most, forcing her into a groundout to third base to put a bow on a doubleheader sweep for the Sun Devils.
Head Coach Craig Nicholson was impressed with what he saw from his team offense in the two games Friday.
“I’d like to not have to come from behind in both games, but I thought we did a really nice job at the plate tonight. We’re getting better offensively. I think we learned some things last weekend. We’re definitely making strides.”
Nicholson also like what he saw from freshman starting pitchers Dale Ryndak in game one and Macha in the final game.
“They were throwing strikes and attacking hitters. We only had one walk in each game, and you know, [Breanna Macha] had nine strikeouts tonight.”
The Sun Devils will now set their sights on their final doubleheader of the Littlewood Classic Saturday against the Boston University Terriers (0-2) and the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners (7-0). They will round out the tournament with a matinee Sunday against Oklahoma once more from Farrington Stadium.