After a thoroughly disappointing beginning to their Super Regional series against No. 14 seed Louisiana-Lafayette, the defending national champion Arizona State Sun Devil softball team finds themselves on the brink of elimination.
Ragin' Cajun pitcher Jordan Wallace dominated the Sun Devil lineup, while the nation's highest scoring offense continued their mastery over ASU pitcher Dallas Escobedo.
Yet, as bad as that game turned out, the Sun Devils have many things in their favor that could help them force a decisive Game 3. Here are five reasons that Friday night's Game 2 (beginning at 6:00pm) will be in ASU's favor.
1) Hillary Bach
Escobedo is one of the nation's best pitchers, but even aces sometimes have a team that simply owns them. Such may be the case with Escobedo and UL-L. After Thursday night's loss, she has now surrendered 15 runs in just 18 innings.
This sets the stage for ASU's other ace--senior Hillary Bach--to be the team's savior. If that is the case, the Sun Devils are in good hands.
Bach was sensational this season, going 20-1 with a 1.62 ERA. While she is not the strikeout artist that Escobedo is, Bach has tremendous control and is much better at keeping the ball in the yard, a trait that should come in handy with ULL's lethal lineup.
2) Home, Sweet Home
With two national titles on his resume, there is no question that Sun Devil head coach Clint Myers is among the best in the nation, and when he is coaching in Tempe, Myers is nearly unbeatable.
This season, the Sun Devils are 40-4 at Farrington Stadium, which is impressive enough. But history shows us something even more remarkable. When Myers is at home during Super Regional play, he was--until last night--invincible. Thursday's loss was the first time in 11 such games that Myers' squad was defeated.
With such a track record, it's difficult to imagine the Sun Devils getting swept.
3) The offense is too good to be kept down for long
As the Sun Devils found out, the Ragin' Cajuns' No. 1 ranked offense is a complete and dangerous unit. Even though they didn't play like it--thanks to the masterful pitching of Wallace--ASU's lineup is comparable.
While the Cajuns were leading the nation with 8.09 runs-per-game, ASU was third at 7.05. The Cajuns' team average of .345 was third best nationally, the Sun Devils .337 fifth. ASU even had the edge in team slugging percentage, placing five spots ahead of the Cajuns (3rd, .565 to 8th, .539). One key point to consider is that the Sun Devils put up these numbers while battling in the nation's premier conference.
Every team will have an off night, especially against elite pitching, but ASU's bats are simply too good to endure prolonged slumps. Whether that means that are able to shake that by Friday night remains to be seen.
4) National champion experience
A team does not win a national championship without being able to overcome obstacles along the way. This ASU squad is not a green bunch who are wide-eyed and overwhelmed by the spotlight. They are the reigning champs with a terrific coach playing at home.
The Sun Devils found themselves with no margin for error not one week ago in the Tempe Regional. When Syracuse beat Escobedo in the afternoon, it forced ASU's title reign to the brink with a decisive third game. How did they respond? With a sterling all-around win to keep their repeat hope alive.
When knocked down to a knee, there is no substitute for having that championship will to help a team back up.
5) Great players do great things
Both ASU and Louisiana-Lafayette are stacked with exceptional players. But one stands out among all the rest.
Sun Devil shortstop Katelyn Boyd was recently named one of three finalists for the National Player of the Year, and it was a no-brainer. She was the Pac-12's batting champion, led the conference in runs, was second in home runs and on-base percentage, and was a fantastic base stealer.
While Wallace was mowing down the Devils, Boyd accounted for two of the three ASU baserunners during the game. With the team needing a spark offensively, having one of the elite of the elite batters at the top of the lineup will be a potent weapon to help ASU rally.
So crank this song up, go out, and get a win, Devils.