A night after a shutout loss, No. 17 Arizona State (19-7) responded with two convincing victories on Saturday night.
The Sun Devils ousted both Nebraska (9-13) and Lehigh (6-6) at Farrington Stadium. Here is how it all went down:
Game one: Nebraska
In a game that saw its share of momentum swings, ASU took down the Cornhuskers 7-3 to start off their evening.
After jumping out to a 1-0 lead courtesy of a lead-off home run from senior center fielder Kindra Hackbarth, Nebraska answered with a run to knot things up at one in the fourth inning.
Both sides exchanged punches, and the Huskers took their first lead at 3-2 in the top of the fifth. Entering the bottom of the frame, ASU had just one runner on and two outs.
The half inning looked like it could be going into the sixth, but one sequence of at-bats ultimately made the difference in what had previously been a tight ballgame.
With sophomore outfielder Makenna Harper on second base, the heart of the Sun Devil batting order came through with three two-out hits.
Senior catcher Maddi Hackbarth doubled, junior first baseman Denae Chatman singled, junior infielder Bella Loomis walked, and freshman shortstop Alynah Torres doubled. All of the offense helped spur a four-run frame and put things out of reach.
Hackbarth, Chatman, and Torres all had RBI’s, and Nebraska had no answer in the sixth and seventh.
“I thought the Nebraska game was kind of a close game and it was good to battle through that,” said ASU coach Trisha Ford. “We broke through there at the end, and I just feel like we didn’t give at-bats away.”
In the circle, junior pitcher Madison Preston came on to shut things down after the four-run fifth, and prior to that, senior Cielo Meza went five innings while only allowing two earned runs and striking out four in an efficient effort.
The righty, lefty tandem once again strung together a solid outing, and Preston backed up her counterpart as she is working her way back from some slight discomfort in her ankle.
“Cielo did a good job of spinning the ball and she is coming off a little bit of an ankle injury. This was the first day she had thrown in a couple of days,” Ford said. “And I thought Preston came in and they are such a good match. She did a great job of getting us ground ball outs and her changeup was working really well today.”
Game Two: Lehigh
To get a summary of ASU’s second game of the doubleheader, all you would need to do is look at the first inning box score.
12 runs in the opening frame. The Devils got all the offense they needed in their first trip to the batter’s box, sending 18 hitters to the plate in one inning to steamroll past Lehigh 16-0 in five innings.
Kindra Hackbarth, who led off the Nebraska game with a homer, followed the same path in the second game as she bombed a ball to the opposite field to lead off. The floodgates opened from there on out.
“Honestly, I like thinking that in the first at-bat you have nothing to lose. You go up swinging and there’s no pressure on you,” said Hackbarth of her mindset leading off. “I stuck to my plan...That’s been really big with our team is sticking to our plan and holding to them. I think we did a better job tonight than last night.”
As Hackbarth noted, the patience in the box was evident on Saturday compared to ASU’s shutout just a night prior. In the Lehigh matchup, the Sun Devils had 16 runs but only 10 hits. That was in large part due to the discipline, as the team walked 12 times.
The third-year Sun Devil also credited the team’s graduate assistants and coaching staff for consistently supplying hitters with pregame information through scouting reports and film.
As opposed to some lead-off hitters who might try to see pitches and feel a pitcher out through the first couple of innings, Hackbarth said that the Sun Devils are often ready from the get-go with all of the information presented to them.
“We attacked early and got on the board early...We watched film before the game today so we were prepared and we were ready,” Hackbarth said. “Scouting reports are important and it’s good to know the mental side of the game and what you are going into.”
Feelin' some sort of deja vu with @kindiboo right now #ForksUp pic.twitter.com/4YtzRGUnTN— Sun Devil Softball (@ASUSoftball) March 8, 2020
Among other standouts, Loomis had two RBI’s, Torres had three RBI’s, and Maddi Hackbarth had two hits and two RBI’s among a long list.
“We knew we had to stay together and come together for these two games,” Loomis said of the effort. “Just play like we know how to.”
Together, that’s what the group did, and Torres in particular impressed. The first-year shortstop tripled against Lehigh and had a few defensive plays with range up the middle, and her coach couldn’t be much more happy with how she’s taken over.
“She calls in huddles and she’s in the middle of huddles, and you can’t teach that stuff,” said Ford of Torres. “Alynah has great charisma...For me, it’s neat to see the team come in and everybody responds to her.”
But that tripleeeee @alynaht #ForksUp pic.twitter.com/fPVp4pQz9d— Sun Devil Softball (@ASUSoftball) March 8, 2020
Among others in the victory, senior pitcher Sam Mejia pitched all five shutout innings, and freshman Jordyn Vanhook had a mammoth home run in the third inning. ASU went on to coast and avenge Friday night’s defeat with a complete effort on Saturday.
“When we set the tone, we are in a good spot,” Ford said. “I thought we were just way more focused today and I loved our bite.”