Morgan Howe fouled off six pitches to force a leadoff walk in the seventh. With two runs needed to stay alive, the senior center fielder yelled toward her dugout, “Let’s go.” Junior shortstop Jade Gortarez followed her with a single up the middle. For the first time all weekend, the Sun Devils had spark in them.
The crowd at Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium showed a bit of discouragement, through 16 innings their team hadn’t let up a run, but they knew the sweep hadn’t been sealed.
Unfortunately for Arizona State (25-11, 5-4 Pac-12), senior left-handed pitcher Taylor McQuillin snapped away all of the Arizona (27-7, 9-0) faithful’s fears. She got the next three Sun Devils to pop out and close out the Wildcats’ 2-0 victory.
For the third time this weekend, the nation’s top offense had been shutout and held to two hits. Although, the three-game set with the Wildcats could be the result of a regression to the mean for ASU.
“In our hitters defense they’ve been carrying us all season long,” Sun Devil head coach Trisha Ford. “It’s kind of how things go when you face a good pitcher. We’ll get back on the saddle I know that and we’ll go to work. It’s a hard game.”
McQuillin struck out seven in her 12th win of the season. Rather than the late-inning rally she faced little to no trouble on Sunday. Sophomore second baseman Bella Loomis doubled with one out to flip over the lineup. With junior right fielder Kindra Hackbarth and senior left fielder Skylar McCarty primed to put the Sun Devils on the board for the first time all weekend, it was once again McQuillin, who came out on top. She got both ASU hitters to pop up to end the frame.
The pitching and the defense did step up for the Sun Devils to give the hitters a chance. While their bats may have not clutched up, the pair of outfielders in McCarty and Hackbarth made tremendous plays to limit Arizona’s offense.
Junior righty Samantha Mejia improved vastly from her Friday start. She allowed only a single run on two hits in her three innings. Ford did decide to make a change to Cielo Meza after Mejia started the fourth in trouble.
Senior first baseman Rylee Pierce singled off of Meza with first and third to break the scoreless tie. Meza settled down with three straight outs with two coming via the strikeout.
Ford was asked if Meza has looked more like herself this weekend.
“She’s been working really hard,” Ford said. “She’s gotten into a good rhythm and we tell her, ‘just go out there and play softball.’ She’s done a great job of that. She feels good. We’re going to continue to use her more and more as she continues to feel better and better.”
Meza made few mistakes in her three frames of work, but Pierce cashed in on one of them. Her third home run of the season extended the Wildcats lead to two in the sixth.
In the ‘what if’ game, had Arizona not hit the home run would ASU have played the two runners on and no outs differently? Probably not. As Ford stated, the team had their proven power hitters in catcher Maddi Hackbarth and first baseman DeNae Chatman up to the plate.
The Sun Devil hitters will most likely bounce back, but they’ll have to do it against the nation’s top player and team. Rachel Garcia and the top-ranked UCLA Bruins head to Tempe for another tough matchup for the Sun Devils.
“We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves,” Ford said. “We have to go back to work. We didn’t make any adjustments in the box. It’s a good learning experience, first Pac [series] on the road. Now with UCLA in town this week, there’s no time for soaking about this. We got to go to work.”