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ASU Softball: No. 14 Sun Devils open Littlewood Classic with win over Illinois State

It didn’t stop raining

Brady Vernon/House of Sparky

An unusual rainy, gloomy Farringdon Stadium created a sloppy field, and the game followed course as both teams combined for five errors and nine walks. However, the rain didn’t stop the 14th ranked Arizona State Sun Devils from securing a 9-6 win against the Illinois State Redbirds (0-6) to start the Littlewood Classic.

On Thursday, the bottom of the Sun Devils’ lineup sparked the offense. From the nine-hole, senior third baseman Taylor Becerra was the engine for ASU’s bats. The senior got her first hit of the day in the second. Her single with the bases loaded brought home two runs, and Becerra later scored on a groundout by senior left fielder Skylar McCarty.

Becerra also scored the lone run in the fourth inning. She singled for the second time, but the ball got passed the Redbirds’ junior center fielder Alyssa Wiebel, that allowed Becerra to get to third. Junior right fielder Kindra Hackbarth singled her in a batter later to increase the lead to five. Becerra added her third RBI against Illinois State in the Sun Devils’ four-run sixth inning to break things open.

Over the course of the Kajikawa Classic, the top of the lineup created most of the offense for ASU. Becerra talked about her role to turn the lineup over for back to the top:

“It’s important,” she said. “I think we were getting later into the game, we were talking a lot at-bat to at-bat what pitches you’re getting. By the time I got up I already knew what she’s throwing — it was really helpful actually to see the girls in front of me and know what she was throwing and I just put the ball in play.”

Head coach Trisha Ford also talked about her third baseman’s big day:

“Becerra had a heck of a day,” Ford said. “She just put the ball in play, she works hard, she’s a senior, she’s been in these situations. She just had a great game for us offensively.”

Hackbarth and McCarty each had two RBIs for ASU in the win as well. Their ability to drive in runs was created by the six through nine hitters of Becerra, junior shortstop Jade Gortarez, sophomore second baseman Bella Loomis and freshman designated player Yannira Acuńa to get on base. Those four in the bottom of the order scored seven of ASU’s nine runs.

Hackbarth talked about the mindset change from leadoff hitter to needing to drive in runs when the bottom of the lineup generates those opportunities:

“The top of the lineup more focuses on getting on base at the beginning,” she said. “Then towards the end we read different situations, me, (senior center fielder) Mo(rgan Howe) and Sky(lar McCarty) all talk in the outfield about we got to get something going in the beginning and towards the end we change our mindset to driving runs, doing whatever we can to score the runs.”

Freshman right-handed pitcher Mikayla Santa Cruz picked up her first college save. Ford trusted her freshman with the duties of coming into a bases loaded, no outs situation in the seventh. Santa Cruz relieved redshirt junior Cielo Meza after Meza walked two and allowed a single to start the frame. The Redbirds scored two after a sacrifice fly and a single against Santa Cruz to close the deficit to three, but her two strikeouts locked up the victory for ASU.

“Personally, I like that,” said Santa Cruz on coming into a high pressure situation. “I love coming into big spots knowing that coach Ford trusts me and she has confidence in me.”

Ford reiterated Santa Cruz’s comments about the trust she has in the freshman closer:

“We’re putting her into some good situations,” Ford said. “We’re doing that early on, putting her into those situations and getting her to work through some of the jitters. I thought she did a good job, obviously the mound wasn’t great today, she did a good job of coming out.”

ASU continues the Littlewood Classic on Friday as they take on the No. 4 Florida Gators at Farrington Stadium with a 7:00 p.m. start time.