Late in Arizona State’s season, Bella Loomis found a knack of having a game-changing play. That didn’t change on NCAA Tournament’s opening day against Southern Illinois.
Deadlocked at four, Loomis stepped up to the plate with the bases loaded in the fifth inning. She lined a single up the middle to plate two, and it ended up being the difference in a 7-4 win for Arizona State.
“She does a great job turning that lineup,” Arizona State coach Trisha Ford said. “She’s got into some big situations. A lot of times having Kindra in that leadoff spot they go after her, and it paid off. The kid is tremendous.”
Arizona State took the lead early, taking advantage of the free passes given out by Southern Illinois starter Sarah Harness.
She walked the first four batters she faced, allowing Yanni Acuńa a chance with the bases loaded (Kindra Hackabrth was caught stealing following her base on balls).
The designated player lined a double to the wall to get the scoring started and give her team a two-run lead. DeNae Chatman then brought in the third run of the frame on a groundout.
Harness’ season-high in walks coming into the night was five and she ended Thursday’s outing walking six.
Southern Illinois coach Kerri Blaylock let home plate umpire Jason Smith know about her thoughts on his strike zone and got ejected in the first inning.
Both teams, the Farrington Stadium crowd, and Softball Twitter were on Blaylock’s side as Smith had a rough night behind the dish.
Despite Blaylock’s absence in the dugout, the Salukis carried their coaches personality. Southern Illinois battled back and manufactured a run in the third inning.
ASU starter Lindsay Lopez was able to limit the damage to one by stranding two runners. Southern Illinois left seven runners.
The Salukis kept coming, though. After center fielder Maris Boelens made a diving catch to rob a hit in the bottom of the third, the momentum came straight back.
Southern Illinois opened up the fourth putting two runners on for leadoff hitter Maddy Vermejan. She used the opportunity and delivered. Vermejan blasted a game-tying three-run home run over the right field fence.
“The one thing I know about Southern Illinois is that they’re going to be gritty; they’re going to fight and stay in the game the whole time,” Ford said. “It was good for us to come out right away and put up some runs, and we dealt with some adversity today that was good. It was a game that went up and down, and I was proud of us for going through those ups and downs.”
Lopez settled in after that one big fly. She threw a complete game and retired the last seven she faced in order.
Maddi Hackbarth left Friday night’s game as Ford said she was not feeling well and was trying to plan for the weekend as a whole.
Arizona State now faces Virginia Tech and star pitcher Keely Rochard on Friday at 1:00 p.m. on the winner’s side of the bracket.
“For us, we’ve seen that (type of spin), we’ve hit it, we’ve faced that,” Ford said. “It’s going to be a tough game and that’s what postseason is about.”