The Arizona State softball team continued its torrid pace with another series victory this weekend. The matchup with the Stanford Cardinal gave the Sun Devils a better indication of how they stack up against other top teams in the nation.
The Sun Devils took two of the three games they played against No. 14 Stanford, but the Arizona State pitchers struggled at times against a potent Cardinal offense.
Dallas Escobedo and Mackenzie Popescue have provided a spectacular 1-2 punch in the rotation this year, but the Cardinal exposed some of Arizona State’s greatest weaknesses.
Popescue opened the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, but was forced to labor through three innings before being pulled in favor of Escobedo.
While Popescue’s 16-0 record and 1.19 earned run average make her one of the nation’s elite No. 2 starters, she has also had the benefit of pitching against lesser competition compared to Escobedo.
Against Stanford, Popescue allowed six hits and two walks in just three innings of work and recorded just a single strikeout.
Escobedo also allowed three runs in her relief effort, but the Sun Devil offense bailed the pitchers out by putting a 12 spot on the scoreboard.
In the second game, Popescue returned to the circle and turned in a beautiful outing. She went the distance by throwing six innings and giving up just four hits and two runs, but she also had the benefit of facing the fatigued Cardinal team on the back end of the doubleheader.
If Popescue’s second game is indicative of what she can do against ranked opponents like Stanford, then the Sun Devils should be in good shape.
However, if Dallas Escobedo continues to surrender homeruns, then the Sun Devils might be in more trouble than they realize.
On Sunday, Escobedo took her fourth loss of the season as she allowed eight hits and four runs in six innings of work. Though her start was by no means a disappointment, the Sun Devil offense struggled against Cardinal ace Teagan Gerhart.
After facing off against a tough opponent like the Cardinal, the weekend series provides an outline of what to expect from Arizona State moving forward.
The Sun Devils are almost a shoe-in to reach the Women’s College World Series, but can they win it all?
Much of Arizona State’s success depends on Escobedo’s success with her rise ball against the nation’s best hitters.
If hitters chase up in the zone, the strikeout totals will pile up. But if Escobedo misses her target, which she has been prone to do at times this year, the ball will soar.
Another factor in the Sun Devils’ championship chances is the reliability of Popescue.
Typically, Popescue starts games when opponents also have their No. 2 starter pitching, which gives her a competitive advantage. However, juggernauts like Oklahoma and Florida will also have stellar rotations, and she’ll have to master the art of beating better opponents in Pac-12 play if she wants to help her team contend for a title.
Can Escobedo match zeroes with an opponent’s ace? Can Popescue continue to pitch well against ranked teams? These questions are key to finding out just how far this Sun Devil team can go.