Head coach Trisha Ford left Fresno State to attempt to restore Arizona State back to a powerhouse program in college softball.
Sophomore shortstop Jade Goratez and junior center fielder Morgan Howe transferred away from Texas and Fresno State, respectivly, before the season to come to Tempe. Left-handed pitcher Giselle “G” Juarez decommitted from Fresno State to stay home in Arizona, as well.
All of them came to Arizona State for one goal. To get ASU back to a championship caliber program. And after Friday night’s performance, they’re a step closer to getting there.
With contributions from Juarez, Howe and Gortarez, Arizona State (44-11) took the first game of the Tempe Super Regional against South Carolina (49-16), 5-2.
“Right now they’re feeding off each other,” Ford said. “Mo[rgan Howe] can’t wait to make a big play for ‘G.” And ‘G’ can’t wait to make a big play for Mo. Once they start to figure that piece out, that’s when something special happens. They’re setting the standard for what Sun Devil softball will be today, tomorrow and moving forward.
“I can’t say enough of what these three mean to our program.”
Juarez tossed another gem, just adding to her already fantastic season. Exactly like last week in the Regional opener against New Mexico State, the sophomore took a no-hitter into the seventh. Unfortunately, the no-hitter and shutout disappeared in the next two batters. After a single, the Gamecocks’ left fielder Kennedy Clark hit a two-run homer.
That was Juarez’s only blemish. She bounced back and struck out the next three batters to end the game. Her strikeout total reached eight over seven innings, allowing only the two hits and two runs.
The final out from Tempe! pic.twitter.com/ffj8lcnYpC— NCAA Softball (@NCAAsoftball) May 26, 2018
Howe got the offense started again in the first inning for another fast start for the Sun Devils. The center fielder found a gap in left-center with a double that reached the wall. Junior third baseman Taylor Becerra scored all the way from first. Howe also came up clutch with a two-out single later in the game to bring in another run.
“Coach tells us ‘score early, score often,’” Howe said. “When we score first it’s a good thing. It just gives up momentum and gets ‘G’ fired up.”
Howe is right on both accounts. Arizona State improved to 40-1 when scoring first and Juarez talked about what it does for her in the circle.
“It brings me a lot of comfort, breathing room. And just allows me to throw my game,” she said.
Gortarez joined the party in the second inning with her eighth home run of the season. The Texas transfer extended the Sun Devils lead to three with her blast. Gortarez said she came to ASU in big part because of Ford.
“Everything is so structured here at ASU,” Gortarez said. “We’re very disciplined, even in our warm-ups. It’s a one-two-three stretch. We do everything as a line. Just the discipline and family orientation here is what brought me to ASU.”
Junior Skylar McCarty also added an RBI on a very bizarre bunt play. The junior’s bunt got through the entire South Carolina defense and nearly to the outfield grass to bring in Gortarez.
The defense behind Juarez was just as good as everything else. Kindra Hackbarth made a spectacular diving catch to start the fourth inning, but that’s nothing new for the sophomore right fielder.
WEB KINDRA HACKBARTH @ASUsoftball leads South Carolina, 3-0! #NCAAsoftball pic.twitter.com/qjBzaeaeoI— NCAA Softball (@NCAAsoftball) May 26, 2018
The Sun Devils are a win away from locking up a spot in the Women’s College World Series. Although, South Carolina won’t back down and this is nothing new for them after winning three elimination games in their regional to get to Tempe.
Howe spoke about what the Sun Devils must do to avoid getting caught up in the moment heading into Saturday.
“Not feeding into the hype,” she said. “You still have to take it pitch by pitch, out by out, inning by inning. Keeping in focus in that frame and not getting ahead of ourselves.”
Saturday’s Game Two will be at 6:00 p.m. PST on ESPN2.