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ASU softball: Pitching and the long ball get No. 17 Devils back on track

A shutout from Juarez and a pair of home runs gives No. 17 ASU two straight wins.

Brady Vernon/House of Sparky

Sophomore Giselle ‘G’ Juarez once again spun a gem from the circle in the No. 17 Sun Devils’ (12-2) 6-0 victory over the Liberty Flames (10-4) in day three of the Mary Nutter Tournament.

She added 10 more strikeouts Saturday, pushing her season total to 57 in just eight appearances — six of them starts. She already amassed a career best of 12 in her start on Thursday.

While Juarez was doing her job on the mound, she was backed by her offense.

Junior catcher Maddi Hackbarth continued to keep the clean up spot, and proved her worth with a first inning two-run homer down the left field line — her second straight game with a home run, echoing her performance in the Kajikawa Classic.

First baseman Danielle Gibson also went yard with a solo shot to lead off the fourth inning. Right fielder Kindra Hackbarth contributed on a two-RBI double in the seventh to cushion the Sun Devils’ victory.

This is continuing a positive trend for Juarez. In the Mary Nutter tournament, she is 2-0 in 14 innings, allowing one run, four hits while striking out 22.

However, she has faced only one team that could be considered a fierce competitor in Tennessee. Her line in that game was five innings, four hits, six runs, three walks and seven strikeouts.

This isn’t to knock her pitching ability, but more so something to take note of as the schedule gets closer to conference play. Including ASU, there are currently seven ranked teams within the conference; four of which are higher than ASU.

Because the Devils have not defeated a team that is ranked higher than them, it should be interesting to watch when March 17 (start of conference play) rolls around.

Another concern has been the slump out of Junior Morgan Howe — she is 1-for-13 so far in the classic. After a hot start, and jokingly talking about her batting average dipping from .600 to .581, her average has continued to fall at an alarming rate.

For a team that has lately started to lean on the hitting of its transfers, Howe needs to continue to represent in the No. 3 hole and help set the tone in the lineup. The season will not get easier.

The Sun Devils will finish their Mary Nutter appearance Sunday when they face Cal State Fullerton (6-6) at 3 p.m.