Arizona State’s rise to a top-ten ranking and hosting a regional has been large part from the emergence of star pitcher of Giselle “G” Juarez. And in the first home regional game since 2014 for the Sun Devil, the sophomore lefty delivered again.
Juarez threw her 13th shutout of the season on Friday night against New Mexico State (29-23), as Arizona State (44-11) prevailed, winning 2-0. “G” had been cruising through six innings, not allowing a single hit. Although, New Mexico State wasn’t going down without a fight.
NCAA’s leader in home runs, Kelsey Horton singled to begin the inning and ended Juarez’s potential no-hitter. Fahren Glackin followed with a single to right field that sophomore right fielder Kindra Hackbarth was able to stop with a dive and hold the runners at first and second.
“It was a risky play that we have full confidence that she’s going to go out and get that ball,” Sun Devils’ head coach Trisha Ford said. “We’re going to allow our athletes to risk things especially in big situations. And I thought she did a heck of a job of keeping that ball in front.”
The Aggies then filled the bases via a walk with one down. The comeback attempt was ended by another great defensive play, coming from junior third baseman Taylor Becerra, who provided a double play to end the game.
“I was so excited,” Juarez said about Becerra’s game-ending play. “Obviously, I realized we had won, we were good. I’m just happy, I don’t have words for it.”
Juarez finished allowing only two hits over seven innings. She struck out 10 New Mexico State batters for her 14th double digit strikeout performance on the season. Through the first and third inning, Juarez retired eight consecutive batters via the ”K.”
“Just me spinning the ball, letting my ball move. Just trying the pitch, every pitch that I threw tonight,” Juarez said about her performance.
The offense was provided by center fielder Morgan Howe in the first inning. With Becerra and Hackbarth already on, the junior hit a ball to the right side bouncing off the glove of Horton at second base. The ball rolled to foul territory and both runs came in to score as Farrington Stadium roared.
“It feeds into us,” Howe said about the Sun Devil faithful, who packed Farrington on Friday. “Their energy we build off of. Just awesome.”
In all Ford was very happy with her team’s play in their postseason opener.
“The first game is always hard. I thought they did a heck of a job,” she said. “They did a good job, I thought ‘G’ made big pitches when she needed to. Our defense played solid behind them and we got some hits when we needed them.”
Arizona State will play Ole Miss on Saturday at 2 p.m., a foe that the Sun Devils know from last season’s postseason at the Oxford Regional.
“We’re familiar some of their hitters. We’re familiar with (Ole Miss’ pitcher Kaitlin) Lee if she throws on the mound. Being at home, being who we are this year, I’m excited. And I love to hear Mo(rgan Howe) talk about how she had butterflies because butterflies means it’s good.”
The Sun Devils are likely to bring a combination of Juarez and senior right-hander Breanna Macha against Ole Miss.