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ASU Softball: No. 16 Sun Devils split Thursday doubleheader against two ranked opponents

The comeback kids almost struck twice

Brady Vernon/House of Sparky

It was a tale of two comeback bids for No. 16 ASU (16-6) on Thursday night against No. 21 James Madison (8-5) and No. 25 Michigan (10-9).

One comeback resulted in a dramatic walk-off victory, and the other fell just short in the late stages of the game.

Game One: James Madison

James Madison had recorded 19 of 21 outs, and they had never trailed in Thursday’s game against ASU.

Then a one-out walk from redshirt senior All-American pitcher Megan Good was given up to sophomore Kiara Kennedy. The free pass didn’t seem like much in a game where Good had performed well.

The walk turned into something special. The next batter was ASU sophomore second baseman Bella Loomis. On a 3-2 count with the top of the order set to turn things over right after her, Loomis elevated a fly ball that just cleared the right field wall. The game was tied at four.

Junior outfielder Kindra Hackbarth walked in the next at-bat. Two batters later, senior Morgan Howe belted an opposite field, walk-off home run. Just like that, ASU took down James Madison by a final of 6-4 after trailing by two runs to start the inning.

“I am getting more comfortable in these big moments,” said Loomis of her game-tying homer. “Last year, I was put in some tough situations, so just that experience has helped me for this year.”

The win took place after ASU trailed 3-0 in the first two innings. Two runs were put up immediately, and redshirt junior pitcher Cielo Meza, who started Thursday’s contest, was pulled in the first inning.

Things looked murky for the second consecutive game, but ASU was able to get things going. Kennedy proved to be a spark plug for the Sun Devil offense, as she belted her first home run as a Sun Devil in the third inning. It cut the score to 3-1, and it brought life against Good. Senior Skylar McCarty scored the second run of the game on an RBI double before giving way to the seventh inning comeback.

Backed by a solid performance from freshman pitcher Abby Andersen, who hurled 6.2 innings in relief while allowing one run, the Devils took a comeback thriller against the Dukes.

“We have to be able to know that we are going to have these types of days where we are going to be behind, and we are going to have to come back and get clutch hits and be a clutch pitching staff,” Andersen said. “I think having days like today shows us that we have a lot of fight and grit.”

Game Two:

Game two was another contest where ASU found themselves in a hole. They were faced with a 6-1 deficit in the bottom of the sixth inning.

However when adversity struck, the Devils responded. They dropped a four-run sixth inning to narrow the gap to 6-5. Kennedy had a triple, junior shortstop Jade Gortarez had two RBI’s and a clutch single, and perhaps the biggest knock to add to the rally was off the bat of Loomis. She had a 2-RBI base hit that cut the gap to 6-5.

Michigan added one run in the top of the seventh, and Howe belted her second home run in two games to bring the score from 7-5 to 7-6. The blast got things close, but ASU couldn’t pull off a second come from behind win, and they ended up on the wrong side of the 8-ball in a one-run loss.

“We can’t count ourselves out,” said Howe of the late push. “We can score late in the game, we can score early in the game...I think it proves to ourselves not to count us out.”

The last two innings were strong offensively, but one of the reasons that ASU found themselves down was due to some defensive miscues. They suffered three errors, and it allowed Michigan to tack on some runs.

“I think we have to pitch a little better in certain situations and play a little better defense and we get two W’s today,” head coach Trisha Ford said. “But I was very happy with what they did in the batter’s box today.”

A second win fell just short despite a rampant comeback. A loss is a loss, but against two ranked opponents with talent and a couple of All-Americans, a doubleheader split wasn’t the worst result, and it showed some of the resiliency of this year’s squad.

“We don’t give up. We aren’t giving up this year,” Andersen said. “That’s a very strong characteristic of our team. We are very stubborn and it’s going to win us a lot of games.”