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ASU Softball: Pitching leads the way in doubleheader sweep over Illinois State and No. 10 Kentucky

Meza and Preston doing well in the circle`

Game One vs. Illinois State

The combination of Cielo Meza and Madison Preston continued to be the recipe for success in the circle. Meza’s rise ball kept Illinois State (2-5) batters swinging and missing. She cruised through 5.1 innings and racked up 11 strikeouts.

The Redbirds put together a rally against Meza in the sixth as they loaded the bases. Despite Meza’s success, Coach Trisha Ford had no hesitation to pull the trigger to put in Preston.

Ford’s decision paid off immediately. Preston, who primarily uses a drop ball, induced a 1-2-3 double play and ended the threat. She finished the seventh scoreless and kept the 3-0 shutout win intact for Arizona State (5-2).

The potent Sun Devil offense never got going against the Redbirds. Everything offensively came from the first three batters in the lineup. Center fielder Kindra Hackbarth had two of the Sun Devils’ four hits and scored two runs.

She made it home from second on a sacrifice fly by her sister Maddi Hackbarth. Illinois State right fielder Kadi Borries crashed into the wall after making the catch, third base coach Jeff Harger and Kindra Hackbarth took advantage. Second baseman Bella Loomis crushed her first home run of the season to bring in Hackbarth again and extend the lead to three.

Game Two vs. No. 10 Kentucky

Preston got the start this time and Meza came in for her. Preston tossed four shutout innings but there were stressful moments. She stranded a runner at third base back-to-back innings including getting a strikeout after loading the bases.

Meza wasn’t perfect in relief. Kentucky right fielder Rylea Smith singled in a run in the fifth followed by Grace Baalman’s pinch-hit home run in the sixth. Meza kept it clean in the seventh to help push No. 23 Arizona State (6-2) to another ranked win over No. 10 Kentucky.

“It’s awesome because (Preston) a drop ball (pitcher) and I’m a rise ball (pitcher). They complement each other really well,” Meza said. “When one team starts timing off of one person then the other person comes in to keep them off balanced. It’s really awesome to have her.”

The offense did just enough to support its pitchers in the 3-2 victory against the Wildcats. Loomis and Kindra Hackbarth highlighted the scoring once again. Hackbarth had a RBI-double and Loomis brought her in to get the scoring going in the third.

Loomis singled to start the fifth. A stolen base and an advancement on a single from shortstop Alynah Torres brought Loomis to third. She later scored the eventual game-winning run on a wild pitch.

The Kajikawa Classic didn’t have the best results for Loomis, who is expected to take on a bigger role this season. For Ford, it was nice to see Loomis have a nice night at the plate again.

“It was huge. We knew it was going to come,” Ford said. “Bella had a great year last year, there’s that pressure, can I do that (again)? Bella is so good about this, she just focuses on herself, she focuses on her at-bats. I wish I had a whole team of Bellas to be honest with you. She just did a great job.”

After taking down Northwestern and competing till the end with Tennessee, Ford is happy to see her young team doing well before they’ve reached their peak in her opinion.

“I hope that the future is bright,” Ford said. “We’re just going to keep working and keep our head down. That’s just us. We’ve talked about this over the years of staying in our bubble and basically the work that we put in is going to benefit us.”

The Sun Devils will have another double header on Saturday. Taking on Detroit Mercy at 4:00 p.m. before a rematch with No. 10 Kentucky at 7:00 p.m.