Lindsay Lopez’s heart raced before a pitch was even thrown. The Arizona native understood the importance of the Territorial Cup series very well.
As the softball world’s attention turned toward Tempe, Lopez stood in the center of the drama at Farrington Stadium. She needed one more out to save the one-run lead and end the Sun Devils’ five-game losing streak to their in-state rival.
The Wildcats had loaded the bases and All-American Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza stepped into the box in the top of the seventh.
Palomino-Cardoza fouled off five pitches. It felt like the sixth-year senior was destined to win the battle against Lopez - the sophomore that had never experienced the rivalry firsthand.
In the moment before Lopez fired in the ninth pitch of the at-bat, she was at her calmest.
Lopez won the battle, not the All-American. Palomino-Cardoza bounced one to Sun Devil shortstop Alynah Torres, who rifled over a throw in time to first, stranding the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position.
Arizona State’s (26-10, 7-6) players swarmed their pitcher following the 4-3 win over No. 8 Arizona (26-6, 6-3).
“It feels really good,” Lopez said. “I knew that it was going to come down to the last inning. I needed to follow my routine and keep my heart rate down.”
The Wildcats couldn’t have scripted the seventh inning any better. The top of their dangerous lineup got to have another chance. Olympian Dejah Mulipola knocked a one-out double down the line to advance Reyna Carranco to third.
Arizona State head coach Trisha Ford decided to intentionally walk powerful slugger Jessie Harper to load the bases despite Sharlize Palacios having already homered and carrying a hotter bat into the weekend.
The choice paid off. Lopez dished out a devastating changeup to strikeout her out before facing Palomino-Cardoza.
“She did a great job of finishing that game,” Ford said. “They had the part of the lineup that they wanted going into that seventh inning...She made big pitches when she had to. Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza had a tremendous at-bat that last at-bat. She’s a superstar for a reason. I thought Lindsay stayed in her zone, stayed focused and on her task. That changeup was nasty. She executed big time for us.
“We thought putting a force (out) helped our defense a little bit. Jessie Harper has a lot of experience...that kid can win a ball game and is a very good hitter...For us, putting a freshman (Palacios) in that situation, we felt like those odds favored us.”
Lopez threw 3.2 inning of relief, allowing one run on three hits.
Freshman Allison Royalty also started and threw well. After allowing a leadoff double from Janelle Meono to open the game, she didn’t allow another hit until the fourth.
Although, that happened to be the two-run home run to Palacios. Ford switched out her pitchers because Royalty started to get into walk trouble.
Arizona starting pitcher Alyssa Denham had her own control issues. She walked three and hit a batter in 2.2 innings.
Jazmine Hill took Denham deep in the first inning. Makenna Harper doubled in Yanni Acuna as well, who was hit by a pitch. Harper earned another RBI after Denham issued one of her three walks with the bases loaded in the third.
Not only did Harper a nice day at the plate, she shined in left field. She made a diving catch to start the fifth inning.
Then in the sixth, Arizona third baseman Malia Martinez lifted one toward the wall, but Harper leaped and caught it, preventing the potential tying-run at first base to come around for the score.
“I knew if that ball dropped that those runs are scoring. I thought that was a huge turning point in the game making that catch,” said Harper before explaining her approach against Denham. “I was hoping she was going to attack early because once I saw a good pitch I knew I was (swinging). I think attacking early in the zone helped us a lot in the game.”
Hanah Bowen had a lot more success when she entered the circle. Her strikeout of DeNae Chatman to leave the bases loaded in the third gave Arizona life.
It wasn’t a coincidence that the Wildcats put up runs in the following frame. Bowen only allowed two hits and one run in her 3.1 innings of relief.
Bella Loomis was the lone Sun Devil to get a hit off of her. It was a fourth-inning solo home run, the eventual game-winning run, and it sent a message that Arizona State was still in the fight.
“They score two runs against us and Bella comes back that next inning (to hit a home run),” Ford said. “That’s the punch back that (assistant) coach (Jimmy Kolaitis) that has been working with the team about...I just think we stayed a good job of staying calm.”
Arizona State now has the chance to clinch the Territorial Cup series for the first time since 2015. The first leg of the doubleheader on Saturday counts as a conference game and starts at 5:00 p.m. local time with the non-conference contest following that shortly after.