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ASU Softball: Sun Devils split Saturday doubleheader

A split at Club Farrington

Brady Vernon/House of Sparky

In one of the more bizarre Saturday doubleheaders, No. 22 Arizona State (3-1) was upset by Western Michigan (1-3), only to respond right back in the second game and take down No. 14 Northwestern (1-3).

After a tough start, the Sun Devils found a way to come through. Here is how it all went down:

Game 1 vs. Western Michigan

The Broncos pulled out their first win of the season by a final of 9-7.

Altogether, it was an offensive affair that featured 16 runs on 20 combined hits, and three errors as well.

As would be expected, head coach Trisha Ford wasn’t too pleased.

“It was a tough first game today. Let’s just call a spade a spade,” Ford said. “We didn’t execute any facet of our game.”

Western Michigan struck first by dropping three runs in the second inning. ASU then came back with four runs of its own in the bottom frame, including the first homer of the season from junior Denae Chatman, and both teams traded punches from there.

The Broncos added two runs in the fourth and three in the fifth to make the score 9-4 with just two ASU attempts at a comeback coming in the sixth and seventh frames.

The Sun Devils cut into the deficit with three runs in the sixth and had the tying run at second base with two outs at one point, but they just weren’t able to get over the hump.

Among a long list of offensive culprits in the game, Western Michigan senior outfielder Mackenzie Swinehart had herself a day, going 2-3 with a home run, a triple, and three RBI’s.

Additionally, junior pitcher Sydney Stefanick, who also got the win in the circle, went 3-4 with a solo homer and two RBI’s.

Despite Sun Devil multi-hit efforts from Chatman, senior outfielder Kindra Hackbarth, and freshman outfielder Jazmine Hill, ASU just couldn’t overcome the deficit, and it left them with their first loss of the year.

They would have to heal their wound and get right back to action with a game against a top-15 opponent coming next.

“I challenged them...I felt like we always think that we are going to hit six home runs,” Ford said. “Well I said, ‘It just nipped you in the butt,’ because you didn’t come ready to play until the last two innings. You think you’re the cardiac kids, well you just had a heart attack.”

Game 2 vs. Northwestern

The Sun Devils’ second game came down to the very end, and similar to a night prior against Kansas, a game-winning home run came off the bat of a Hackbarth.

Friday night was a go-ahead homer from Maddi. On Saturday, though, the honor instead went to Kindra.

Trailing 5-4 in the the bottom of the seventh, and with a runner on first base, Kindra Hackbarth got a 2-2 pitch that leaked over the middle of the plate, and she didn’t miss it.

The ball was launched high over the center field wall, giving the Sun Devils a 6-5 walk-off win against a ranked Wildcats squad that was in last year’s NCAA Super Regionals.

“I just kept it simple...I knew I was going to get out, out, out,” said Kindra of the pitch sequence and approach in her last at-bat. “She threw and I took it, and I was expecting it again...My plan changed mid at-bat.”

ASU never led against the Wildcats up until that point, but it would be all the team needed to cap off a comeback victory.

As for how it got to that point, that started in the first inning when Northwestern junior infielder Rachel Lewis lined a solo home run over the left field wall on the first pitch of the game. The Wildcats added another run in the second, and ASU was once more in an uphill fight down 2-0.

Things drew even though when ASU put up back-to-back jacks courtesy of freshman shortstop Alynah Torres and junior third baseman Kiara Kennedy.

Northwestern took the lead two more times, going up 4-2 in the top of the third and 5-4 in the sixth, but each time it was met with an answer.

“I think it shows what we are capable of doing,” said Ford of her team’s resiliency offensively. “Our bats are something that we work really hard on and I don’t think anybody is comfortable with us at any point in the game. I want our girls to also feel that and I want them to own that.”

Aside from just the offense, one of the most important figures in the win was also junior pitcher Madison Preston, who has been a stabilizing arm on the Sun Devil staff thus far.

Coming out of the bullpen in relief for senior starter Cielo Meza, Preston hurled three innings, only allowing one hit and one run while striking out five to earn a win.

For the left-hander who transferred in from Alabama this offseason, it’s been a matter of finding her stride now that she’s in Tempe and playing with Ford.

“I’m a junior that feels like a freshman again,” said Preston of coming to ASU. “But overall, the coaches and the players have made it super easy to transition and I feel like now, I feel like I’ve been here the past two years even though I’ve only been here for five months.”

Hackbarth endorsed how Preston has fit in as well, especially considering that she was in similar shoes a couple years ago when she transferred from Fresno State to become an immediate impact player.

“It’s awesome because people look past Pres (Preston),” Hackbarth said. “She’s awesome and just seeing her come in, it makes me so happy just seeing her succeed and helping our team. She’s going to fight for our team and you can see it on her face.”

Ultimately, ASU came away with a hard-fought win after a tough way to start the day. For a team that is full of new faces in addition to some veteran leaders, it’s a matter of sculpting their identity in the early stages of the season.

Although there was a slight hiccup, the boat is continuing to row forward, and the loss in the first game serves as a learning lesson.

“It’s going to be a chip on our shoulder for a while,” said Hackbarth of the game one loss and transitioning forward. “We are going to have to hear about it for a long time, but we huddled up as a team and we were like, ‘Northwestern hosted regionals last year. Let’s show them who should host this year.’ We kind of went in with a dog fight, and it worked out.”