Coming into Oklahoma City for their 10th all-time appearance at the Women's College World Series, the defending national champion Arizona State Sun Devils were primed for a run at a repeat. They had survived some tough tests on their way to the WCWS, but consistently showed the championship resolve needed to triumph. Plus, it's no secret they have the talent to win it all.
Their first battle in the double-elimination bracket portion came against Pac-12 rival Oregon. The teams split a weather-shortened series in late March, but this swing game came with much greater stakes.
The Ducks started pitcher Jessica Moore, the third-team All-American who was masterful in her shutout win over the Devils in their prior meeting. Opposing Moore in the circle was the sophomore sensation for ASU, Dallas Escobedo, who last year went 5-0 at the WCWS. Both would pitch outstanding games, but one would be let down by her defense.
Oregon seemed to get an early edge. Samantha Pappas led off the game with a double, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and appeared to score on a sac fly to left. However, the run turned into an out after it was ruled that Pappas left the bag prior to the catch. Looking at the instant replay, Pappas did appear to leave on time.
In the home half, ASU's young guns got the champs on the board. Haley Steele reached on a fielder's choice, and then Amber Freeman blasted a double off the right centerfield wall to draw first blood for the Sun Devils.
Two innings later, the Devils struck again. A leadoff single by Talor Haro was followed by Katelyn Boyd's 50th walk of the year, and then No. 2 hitter Alix Johnson moved the pair over on a sac bunt. After a Steele groundout couldn't get the runners in, Freeman lined a hot shot to shortstop Kelsey Chambers, who bobbled it away, allowing Haro and Boyd to score.
It appeared that Escobedo would cruise the rest of the way to victory, and she did through the sixth. But the Ducks would not die easily.
A double and a walk led off the seventh inning, and then an error by ASU second baseman Sam Parlich broke up the shutout.
However, the Devils would rebound on the very next at bat. Sara Goodrum lined what would have been a game-tying hit right to Steele at third, who made the catch and doubled up the runner.
Despite the late inning scare, Escobedo was the star of the game. After the game-opening double, she scattered just five more Oregon hits while striking out four en route to her 24th and most important (to date) win of the season. She kept the Ducks off-balance with great control and location throughout the night.
Lost in the defeat was the great performance of Moore. She surrendered just three hits on the night, but was let down by some defensive lapses behind her. She'll look to keep Oregon's season alive when they face Tennessee on Saturday at 11:30am.
As for the Sun Devils, they move on to face No. 2 seed Alabama on Friday night, thanks to the Tide's 5-3 win over Tennessee. First pitch from Oklahoma City will be at 6:30pm. Check back here on Friday morning for a scouting report on the Crimson Tide.
Updated Bracket (click to enlarge):