Arizona State (25-14, 5-7 Pac-12) suffered its sixth consecutive conference loss on Sunday afternoon. The Sun Devils fell at the hands of No. 1 UCLA (35-1, 9-0 Pac-12) 16-5 in five innings at Farrington Stadium.
The Bruins put on an offensive show, scoring 16 runs on 15 hits against an ASU pitching staff who has had its challenges as of late.
“The worst is hopefully out of our system now, and we have to tidy some things up on the mound,” head coach Trisha Ford said. “That’s a good hitting team. They are scoring a lot of runs against a lot of teams from across the country. We just have to reset and go back to work.”
UCLA had six different players with multi-hit games and the bats were off to a good start from the get-go. Bruin sophomore shortstop Briana Perez had a leadoff homer to kick off Sunday’s contest.
From there, the Bruins continued to pass the bat. They scored their 16 runs in the first three innings and put up an eight-spot in the second.
Junior pitcher Sam Mejia, freshman pitcher Abby Andersen, and Mikayla Santa Cruz all saw action on Sunday but they were challenged against the Bruins’ potent lineup. Santa Cruz was the lone pitcher who did not allow a run.
The big innings allowed UCLA to pull in front steadily and hold their lead. With four new pitchers who have never pitched in the Pac-12 prior to this season, Ford noted that these last two weeks have been a developing part of the maturation process.
“It’s a hard conference as a pitcher and when you are new and you haven’t pitched here through the Pac-12,” Ford said. “None of our pitchers have pitched through the Pac-12 Conference so the first year can be a little hard.”
Nevertheless, the big innings have put some pressure on the Sun Devil offense to score runs, which they hadn’t been able to do for the last five games. That is until junior Alli Tatnall hit a two-run homer in the third inning of Sunday’s game. Junior Kindra Hackbarth followed that with another two-run blast. The weight of not scoring a run for five games was lifted.
“As my coach described it, we are coming out of that fog (offensively). That’s exactly what that felt like after not scoring for a few games,” Tatnall said. “It’s been tough, but getting through it is what makes the game great in moving forward and progressing from that.”
Hackbarth echoed a similar sentiment.
“We take every game as a learning experience and today, those last two innings offensively, we came together,” Hackbarth said. “Like coach said, we are coming out of the fog. We are going to take it and run with it. That’s big. We haven’t scored runs in a couple games now.”
Ultimately, UCLA’s offensive firepower and some Sun Devil struggles in the circle led to a series sweep. The bats came alive but it was too little, too late.
The numbers over the last six games might be tough to look at for Sun Devil fans. Six straight conference losses have occurred (the longest losing streak of the Trisha Ford era), and they have been run ruled in five of the six.
However, that is taken with some salt. ASU has played against some of the best pitchers and teams in the country with an entire new pitching staff. The times might be tough right now, but the ultimate goal in the long run is that these games will be looked back upon as a turning point in a long conference season.
That was something Ford emphasized to any fans or ASU faithful who might be skeptical of what has happened over the last two conference series’.
“I wholeheartedly think that you are going to see some good softball coming down the shoot. We have had a rough six games. It’s a hard part of the conference. I think we have learned a lot from it. For me, we are going to continue to put up a good product on that field and continue to put good numbers on that scoreboard. Pitching wise, we are just going to keep working,” Ford said.
“Don’t lose faith in us. We know what we need to do in order to get where we need to go and I think we are going to get there. I truly do...If you are a true fan and you really believe in what these ladies do day in and day out, you show up and really support us through the ups and downs. That’s what being a part of a family is. You support through the ups and downs...We are a good team and we are going to be fine. You are going to see it.”