In a top-15 matchup in Tempe, the No. 14 Arizona State Sun Devils (5-2) and No. 4 Florida Gators (8-0) battled back-and-forth for much of Friday night. However, with a late-inning rally, Florida left Farrington Stadium with a 7-2 win.
“I thought in the batters box we did a heck of a job,” head coach Trisha Ford said. “Things just didn’t go our way — to see our fight tonight was better. We competed in the box against one of the best pitchers in the country.”
The Gators threw the knockout punch in the fifth inning. Sophomore second baseman Hannah Adams opened the frame with her second home run of the season. The Gators put together three more runs after Adams’ blast to increase their lead to five. Freshman Mikayla Santa Cruz and redshirt junior Cielo Meza struggled to find the zone for ASU in the fifth. The two combined to give up four free passes in the Gators’ big inning. The Sun Devils walked five and hit five Florida batters on Friday.
“We walked too many batters, we hit a couple of batters. I think that kind of stung us,” Ford said.
Freshman Abby Andersen had the tough task of starting against the high-caliber Gators, even tougher when it was her first collegiate start. Despite the vigorous ask from Trisha Ford, Andersen responded well. Florida’s first two batters, senior first baseman Amanda Lorenz and sophomore left fielder Jordan Matthews, got things going.
Lorenz launched her first home run of the night to start the game. (She hit another in the fourth inning). Andersen then hit Matthews on the helmet. Instead of being rattled, Andersen shook it off and finished her first start with a solid outing. She pitched three innings, allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits.
“We’re going to get better as we go,” Ford said. “For Abby, it’s just a learning tool. And that’s something when she came in (to the dugout), she was like, ‘I just need to go out there and pitch, pitch my game,’ I go, exactly. I thought she settled in nicely against, probably, one of the best power lineups in the country.”
Junior right fielder Kindra Hackbarth started the Sun Devil offense with her first blast of the season to right field. The ASU energy was ignited again, as Hackbarth’s teammates sprinted from the dugout to celebrate the tied game at home plate.
She talked about her mindset at the plate before her solo home run:
“Honestly, we talked as a team that we don’t have anything to lose. So, I went into the box no pressure on and I was just swinging. I wasn’t really thinking about anything, I was just focusing on seeing the ball down. I just went into it with nothing to lose, that type of mentality and just went with it.”
After the Gators manufactured a run in the second inning with the help of an ASU error, the Sun Devils had to answer back once again. Back-to-back bunts from Hackbarth and senior left fielder Skylar McCarty put Hackbarth on second after her base hit and McCarty’s sacrifice. That set the stage for senior center fielder Morgan Howe. She sent a ball off the left field wall to plate Hackbarth and get her fourth double of the season. Unfortunately for the Sun Devils, that’d be the end of their offense.
Senior right-handed pitcher Kelly Barnhill, who was the 2017 USA Softball Collegiate National Player of the Year, found a groove after Howe’s double. She displayed her talent, as Hackbarth and Howe were the only two batters to produce hits off of her. Barnhill threw a complete game for the Gators, she surrendered just two runs on four hits and struck out 14 ASU batters. She also allowed just one Sun Devil baserunner after the third inning.
Ford spent time with Barnhill while coaching Team USA, Ford commented on what makes Barnhill one of the top pitchers in the country.
“Kelly loves to compete, Kelly loves to be out in the field, she wants to be the best,” said Ford on Barnhill. “She just wants to go out there and win games for the team. She doesn’t really care how she does it.”
Arizona State continues the Littlewood Classic on Saturday with first pitch slated for 2:00 p.m. against the Central Michigan Chippewas.