There isn’t a much better word to describe Arizona State and BYU’s elimination game on Friday night. Multiple lead changes. Runs scoring in variety of ways. It was the postseason atmosphere that softball fans missed in 2020.
For Arizona State, it was on the wrong end of multiple close plays, and the first major upset of the 2021 bracket. BYU’s four-run six-inning rally proved to be the difference in the Cougars’ 9-8 win to advance to the Regional Finals.
Backs against the wall, BYU showed no fear against the regional host. The Cougars opened the frame up with three straight hits to cut the deficit to one.
DeNae Chatman made a quick decision on a groundball to get the first out of the inning in a rundown.
The Sun Devils then decided to intentionally walk BYU home run leader Rylee Jensen to load the bases. It nearly paid off as Lindsay Lopez struck out HannahJo Peterson, thus needing just one more out to escape the jam with the lead.
Violet Zavodnik had other plans and delivered a clutch hit. She singled up the middle to give her team back the lead for the final time. BYU added another insurance run that ended up being very important.
Arizona State’s never-die spirit came to life in the top of the seventh as Yanni Acuña launched a ball into the night sky to put her team down one at 9-8.
However, there wasn’t anything left in the tank for the Sun Devils as they were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament.
“We make every nervous, no matter what part of the game it is,” Arizona State coach Trisha Ford said. “That’s who we are. Hopefully that will continue to grow.”
From the first pitch, it seemed like Arizona State was going to need to earn everything on Friday.
In the first at-bat of the game, Kindra Hackbarth bounced a hard grounder toward BYU starter Autumn Moffat-Korth. The pitcher flung her glove up with her head turned, catching the hard hit chopper and throwing Hackbarth out. It was just that kind of night.
It wouldn’t be the only time Hackbarth was robbed of a hit, too. The All-American center fielder had a prime opportunity in the fourth inning with runners at first and third and two outs.
She lined a ball that was hit on the screws and appeared to be headed for the center field wall, but Zavodnik tracked it down with a head of steam and collided with the wall to save a pair of runs.
“Kindra smokes a ball, the kid makes a phenomenal catch in outfield,” Ford said of the play.
BYU let Arizona State know early that it had its own powerful lineup. The Cougars never seemed to back down. Huntyr Ava drove a ball hard for a double to start the scoring in the first inning, then BYU added another to make it a two-run lead after one.
Following a good two-out at-bat by nine-hole hitter Erin Miklus resulting in a single, Jensen stepped up and hit her 19th homer of the season, pushing the lead to three in the second inning.
The Sun Devils essentially cost themselves two runs. With a runner on second base and two outs, Savannah Price made a nice stop at second base in the first inning, but it was clear that the hitter, Martha Epenesa, was going to make it safely to first base.
The momentum of the play carried Price away from first, and she tried throw anyways. Never letting off the gas, pinch runner Taryn Lennon scurried in to score from second during the slow-developing play.
In the third inning, the Cougars tried and succeeded at a first and third play as well. Maddi Hackbarth decided to throw through toward second base as Marissa Chavez took off, but the throw back to get Ava wasn’t in time.
Lopez proceeded to end the frame on the next pitch with a strikeout.
Lopez battled through a complete game as it was apparent Allison Royalty wasn’t available this weekend. Ford was honest that going forward, Arizona State needs to get better in the circle.
Lopez and Royalty will try to build off their first full seasons while they’re also joined next season by top recruit Mac Morgan from Missouri, and Arizona transfer Marissa Schuld, who will be eligible after sitting out the 2021 season. It will be much-needed depth.
“For me, it begins and ends in the circle,” Ford said. “If we continue to get better in that circle area and (hitting coach Jeff) Harger does a tremendous job offensively for us, when we get those two on the same cylinder we’re going to be pretty deadly. Sometimes you hit rough patches and bumps, that’s how we’re going to get better...It all starts with me.”