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ASU Softball: No. 22 Sun Devils open the season with wins over Portland State and Kansas

Two different games

Brady Vernon/House of Sparky

Game 1 vs. Portland State

Cielo Meza had a rollercoaster season in her first year in Tempe in 2019. Meza, former Big West Pitcher of the Year while at Long Beach State, put that all behind her in her first outing of 2020. She diced for all five innings of Arizona State’s (1-0) 10-0 win over Portland State (1-1).

She was perfect till designated player Ashley Doyle singled through the left side as the Vikings were down to their last out. Meza got the next batter to finish a five-inning complete game. It wasn’t a perfect game, but she allowed just the single hit and struck out six.

“Cielo was pretty close to being perfect,” Arizona State head coach Trisha Ford said. “I’m really happy for her. She’s worked really hard this offseason. She’s put in the preparation from a physical standpoint and an emotional standpoint. I just want her to go out and put the game, keep it simple and she did that today.”

For Meza she hopes Friday was a sneak peak for the rest of her senior season.

“Last year I felt that was a lot of ups and downs. This year I’m very prepared,” Meza said. “Our team is all in together. I’m really excited for what the rest of the season has.”

Meza’s job was made easier by her offense. The Sun Devils handed their pitcher a six-run lead after the first inning. Freshman right fielder Jazmine Hill highlighted the firework like frame with her first collegiate at-bat ending in a two-run home run.

“I don’t think it gets any better for (Jazmine). First collegiate at-bat and it’s a dinger,” Ford said.

Junior third baseman Kiara Kennedy extended the first inning with a two-RBI double herself before she scored on the blast from Hill. The top of the lineup, senior center fielder Kindra Hackbarth and junior second baseman Bella Loomis drove in runs on doubles as well.

Game 2 vs. Kansas

For as much as a breeze through as the first contest was, the Sun Devils had their hands full with the Jayhawks in the second half of the doubleheader.

Kansas (0-2) led for most of the contest. Jayhawk center fielder Brittany Jackson and right fielder Sam Dellinger homered to put Kansas up four and force Sun Devil starting pitcher Samantha Mejia out of the game.

The Arizona State (2-0) bats responded in the sixth inning. Senior catcher Maddi Hackbarth and freshman shortstop Alynah Torres each had two-run home runs to eventually send the Sun Devils to a 8-5 victory.

Maddi Hackbarth’s home run gave Arizona State its first lead of the night against the Jayhawks. The Sun Devils entered the inning trailing by two. Hill started the rally with a single. Followed by back-to-back hits from Kindra Hackbarth and Bella Loomis, the stage was set for Maddi Hackbarth to untie it and give her team the lead.

“We had a lot of different situations throughout today that you normally get in later on (in the season) games,” Maddi Hackbarth said. “I think today we showed our fight and that we’re not going to give up. We’re going to keep going on and make adjustments in the box.”

Ford was certainly happy with the final result. She understands that despite the high expectations on her offense there will be early bumps in the road.

“We have a lot of new faces, we have the nerves going on. For me it was just us going back to our game,” Ford said. “It was just keeping it simple, making (Kansas pitcher Tatum Goff) pitch down. We started to figure it out, it just took us a long time. It’s how it’s going to be. We’re not going to be the best that we’re going to be right now.”

The gates for the offensive spark were kept open by Alabama transfer Madison Preston and her work in the circle. In her Sun Devil debut, the junior left-handed pitcher replaced Mejia in the fourth inning and tossed four hitless innings to earn her first decision as a Sun Devil.

Preston’s drop ball was the key for her against the Jayhawks. She either produced a swing at a ball in the dirt, six strikeouts for her, or weak contact on the ground.

“I couldn’t be more proud of her,” said Ford on Preston. “She came in and did her job. She’s been working really hard on coming into tough situations, she’s done a lot of that. She’s just done a great job about owning who she is.”

Left fielder Yannira Acuña also recorded her first home run of the season.

Arizona State continues the Kajikawa Classic on Saturday against Western Michigan (4:30 p.m. MT) and Northwestern (7 p.m. MT).

Other notes

  • Acuña believes she’ll reap the same benefits that Bella Loomis did last year out of the nine-hole. Acuña has a lot of natural power from the left side and it certainly helps to have Kindra Hackbarth to protect her.
  • This is the Sun Devils first 2-0 start since the 2017 season.
  • Since coming to Tempe, the Sun Devils are now 5-1 when Meza records six strikeouts or more.
  • Preston’s four innings of work was more than she had in a single game last year at Alabama.