After dropping a 1-0 pitcher's duel earlier in the day, the Arizona State Sun Devils and Syracuse Orange did battle on Sunday evening for the third time in two days with a berth in the next round of the 2012 NCAA Softball Tournament on the line.
Like the previous two games, the pitching match-up pitted ASU's Dallas Escobedo and Syracuse ace Jenna Caira. With each having thrown a winning gem so far this weekend, Sunday night figured to be a decisive match on many levels.
Continuing the trend of eventful first innings during this series, the Sun Devils cast off their offensive struggles from earlier in the day and got to Caira. A Katelyn Boyd double and a walk to Alix Johnson preceded a two-RBI double by Annie Lockwood. A few baserunners later, some sloppy defensive play allowed Haley Steele to score an unearned run, giving ASU a key 3-0 lead.
Syracuse mounted a serious threat in the fourth. They managed to load the bases with two walks and a single. Was Escobedo showing signs of fatigue? Of course not. She dug down deep and struck out Julie Wambold. Then, Escobedo and Ashley Dimon engaged in an epic 10-pitch at bat that ended with another Escobedo strike out.
That momentum carried over to the home half of the inning. With Caira out, Stacy Kuwik promptly surrendered a home run to Haley Steele, who extended the Sun Devil lead with a solo bomb, her 10th of the season.
From there, Escobedo continued to be in control. She shutdown the Orange in the fifth before running in to some trouble with two outs in the sixth. A single and a walk gave Syracuse some life, and up came up Dimon once again. And just like before, Escobedo got the key out to end Syracuse's last major threat of the game. An easy seventh inning by Escobedo later ended Syracuse's season and sent ASU to the Super Regionals.
The hero of the day for the advancing Sun Devils was clearly Escobedo. In pitching both games for ASU, he tossed 13 innings, struck out 16 while allowing just a single run, coming in the opening inning of the first game.
The defending national champions will now move on to host Louisiana-Lafayette, ranked No. 12 in the country in a best of three Super Regional series beginning next Thursday at 7:00pm.
Click here to see the full (and printable) 2012 softball tournament bracket.