A hot start for Arizona State softball put the team ahead of San Diego State and led to an 11-8 win on Saturday, making way for Sunday’s championship game at 3 p.m.
The offensive explosion in the beginning with eight runs from ASU in one inning set a different tone than the pitcher's duel in the opener against Cal State Fullerton, a 5-2 Sun Devils win.
“That was a thriller. Today was obviously a different kind of game. We came out offensively with a great approach, we executed big time in the box. Last night, Mac (Morgan was) pitching well and it took us a while to find our bats, but today it took us a while to find our rhythm in the circle. I think that’s what makes us great is that we can do it in a multitude of ways and beat teams,” ASU coach Trisha Ford said.
Ford tinkered with her lineup with Emily Cazares, Mailey McLemore, and Savannah Price all starting in the game. It paid off in the first when all three scored runs in the eight-run first inning.
ASU got to SDSU ace Maggie Balint quickly in the first inning as she lasted one out with five runs on five hits. Balint threw a wild pitch that scored Mailey McLemore and put ASU up 5-0 with one out, leading to Dee Dee Hernandez replacing her on the mound. Hernandez inherited the traffic from Balint’s outing and three more runs were scored from ASU for an 8-0 lead.
Despite ASU's early lead, the game was far from over and SDSU made that clear. The Aztecs previously scored 10 runs in Friday’s opener against LSU and weren’t shy at the plate on Saturday. Coming in with something to prove, the Aztecs scored five runs in the first.
Starting pitching on both sides didn't last long as ASU starter Lindsay Lopez left in the second inning following six runs on eight hits through 1.1 innings of work.
“I don’t (think) Arizona State did anything to let us come back. I think we earned our runs and we battled as valiantly as you can. Going down eight runs in the first inning, I don’t know many teams that come back from that and make it interesting. That’s a big hole to dig out of and we battled and I was really proud of how we fought through that game,” SDSU coach Stacey Nuveman Deniz said.
Two offensively dangerous teams, ASU and SDSU combined for 28 hits and 15 runners were left on base. Even though pitching struggled in stretches, neither team gave up a home run.
When ASU would find its offense, SDSU would keep up with the pace in the following outing. Alynah Torres began a two-out rally in third with a single, followed by Yanni Acuna’s single that sent Torres to third. Jazmine Hill sent both home with an RBI single to right for a 10-6 lead.
In the bottom frame of the inning, Makena Brocki started the response with a single. Nicole Siess flew out to left, but Bella Espinoza laid down a successful bunt to set up Brocki in scoring position. Mac Barbara, SDSU’s top slugger, was hitless in two at-bats prior, but hit an RBI single that made it 10-7. A fielder’s choice cut the deficit to two runs, but Schuld caused AJ Murphy to fly out to end the inning.
ASU got its offense rolling again in the fifth when pitcher Allie Light took over in the game. Light got into trouble early when Bella Loomis launched a double and was followed by Torres’ single. Acuna hit another RBI single that scored Loomis and lengthened the lead to 11-8. In the bottom of the inning.
Schuld was lights out with a flyout before retiring the side and kept it going in the sixth when she struck out Barbara. Her defense behind her took care of the rest when Cydney Sanders caught a foul ball and Halle Harger made a leaping catch on a line drive from Murphy. Schuld went 5.2 innings with only two runs on five hits and five strikeouts through 81 pitches.
"Marissa hasn’t gotten as many innings as of late, but she’s been in the bullpen permanently warming up. Today she got her chance and her opportunity, and I thought she did a great job with it. It took her a little bit, but I love the fact that she kept fighting. That’s her in a nutshell," Ford said.
SDSU will play the winner of LSU and CSUF at 7 p.m. and the winner of that game will face ASU on Sunday at 3 p.m. If ASU loses the first game, it will play again at 5:30 p.m. to determine who will advance to the Super Regional.
Arizona beat Missouri 2-0 in the Columbia, Missouri, regional and beat Illinois 8-3 yesterday. The Wildcats advance
This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: ASU softball advances to championship at NCAA Regional