No. 15 Arizona State (15-6) trailed 4-1 entering the bottom of the third inning against No. 9 Texas (16-3).
What was once a 1-0 ASU lead in the first inning was erased by four Longhorn runs in the second frame. Facing Texas junior pitcher Miranda Elish, who was a 2018 Top 25 Finalist for National Player of the Year and who has held nearly a 5/1 strikeout-walk ratio this season, things looked bleak against a team who ASU had already lost to once in the weekend.
Enter junior right fielder Kindra Hackbarth.
After two free passes to start the third inning, Hackbarth shifted momentum in one swing of the bat. With runners on first and second, she hit an opposite field three-run homer to tie the game at four. It was her second home run of the day, and it was the beginning of a triumphant 9-6 Sun Devil victory on Sunday afternoon.
“I felt good all morning during BP,” Hackbarth said. “We just went in the box and stuck to our plan. We didn’t stick to our plan the first time we faced Elish...We just had to do everything the coaches say and we had to execute and I think we did.”
The opposite field big fly to tie the game wasn’t her only big play on Sunday. She created her own highlight reel both offensively and defensively. Being the first batter who faced Elish, Hackbarth blasted a home run to make the score 1-0 early.
Then in the second inning, she had just your average 9-2 putout on a throw that she lasered in from right field to her twin sister Maddi, who stood on home plate for the force out with the bases loaded. The play occurred on a bloop single to shallow right.
She wasn’t done there, either. Perhaps her biggest play of the afternoon, and the one she labeled as her favorite, was when Texas had two runners in scoring position with two outs in the bottom of the third. On a ball driven over her head to right, and with Hackbarth playing shallow, she spun around to make a full extension diving catch to end the inning.
It was just that kind of day for the junior, who finished with four RBI’s and a web gem. Against top opponents, Hackbarth seems to relish the moment, even going back to last year. It’s something she embraces.
“Honestly, I just enjoy being around these girls. Stepping in that box, I have to breathe,” Hackbarth said. “I honestly love the pressure. I love when teams underestimate all of us.”
Another player who seems to always embrace big moments is Hackbarth’s counterpart in the outfield - senior Morgan Howe. On Sunday, Howe broke the game open after ASU had taken a lead on a wild pitch. She doubled and advanced to third base on a throwing error with the bases loaded. It was a three-RBI double, and it broke the game open to 8-4.
“Both of those two (Hackbarth and Howe), they are gamers,” assistant coach Carly Wynn said. “...In those pressure moments, we are blessed to have two kids where the ball gets a little bit bigger for them. I think they are just locked in for lack of a better term. They are locked in. They got one job and they are ready to swing hard.”
ASU chased Elish from the circle after 3.2 innings. Hackbarth and Howe came up big, but it wasn’t just a two-player show. In the second inning, Maddi Hackbarth back-doored a Texas base runner with a snap throw to first base.
Additionally, in a bases loaded jam with one out, redshirt junior pitcher Sam Mejia induced a big 6-4-3 double play courtesy of junior shortstop Jade Gortarez and sophomore second baseman Bella Loomis to tight rope out of a dangerous situation as the Longhorns tried mounting a comeback.
“It’s seriously amazing. Knowing that you are able to get the ball in play and you have someone who can make those types of play behind you, it’s a great feeling,” said Mejia of her defense.
Redshirt junior pitcher Cielo Meza started Sunday’s game, Mejia was middle relief and stabilized the game after ASU got a lead, and freshman Abby Andersen closed things out. Despite dealing with some tough situations, the trio found a way to hold down a win against a potent Longhorn lineup.
“C and Sam pitched their butts off to get us to the point where we were at and I wasn’t going to let that go,” said Andersen of closing the game. “Having the bond that we have, it’s personal. Getting that win, it’s personal.”
Texas outhit ASU 10-4 on Sunday, but four walks and three hit batters allowed the Devils to capitalize and make the miscues hurt. With two errors between both teams and a few free passes, the game wasn’t the cleanest but it’s still early in the season, and it certainly was an entertaining Sunday matchup between two ranked programs.
Who knows, they could even see each other down the road in the postseason.