Arizona State softball drops Super Regional opener in late thriller to Northwestern, setting up rematch

Jenna Ortiz
Arizona Republic
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No. 8 Arizona State softball was preparing all season long for moments like Friday. 

Unfortunately, Friday’s extra innings affair in the opener of the NCAA Super Regional against No. 9 Northwestern became more of a lesson than another triumph.  

ASU battled through 11 innings of a back-and-forth game and hit three home runs, but ultimately fell 4-3 at Farrington Stadium. 

“I thought it was a great battle out on the field. We had our opportunities and they took advantage of some of our miscues and we didn’t take advantage of some of theirs. It’s kind of how it goes in Super Regionals,” ASU coach Trisha Ford said. 

The pitcher’s duel fell into extra innings when Northwestern third baseman Hannah Cady hit a game-tying solo home run to center field in the seventh inning. 

From then on, the game tightened even more as neither defense would let up.  

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If it weren’t for ASU left fielder Makenna Harper, the game could’ve ended in the eighth inning when Jordyn Rudd hit a deep drive to left field. Harper leapt from the warning track and flashed a dazzling grab to save the game.  

“I’m just running and catching and I’m happy it played out the way it did. It was a good way to spark the inning,” Harper said. 

ASU had all four pitchers make an appearance in the game, including Allison Royalty, who appeared in her first game since May 7. Royalty didn’t show any jitters when she came in for the eighth inning and didn’t allow a hit on five batters faced.  

The Sun Devils had scoring opportunities throughout the four extra innings, but Northwestern’s defense tightened up and didn’t allow ASU’s potent lineup any more allowances. 

Northwestern ended the four extra innings when Maeve Nelson scored on Angela Zedak’s groundout that was hit to shortstop and allowed time for Nelson to reach home from third base in the eleventh. 

Starter Danielle Williams was tough to hit on the mound for Northwestern and even with the extra innings, she pitched a complete game. Williams threw 179 pitches and went 11 innings with nine strikeouts and three runs on 11 hits. 

“There has to be a loser and unfortunately we were on the short end. We had our opportunities and the good thing is that I believe in this team and I think it’s going to be really hard for a pitcher to beat us on back-to-back days. (Williams) threw a lot of pitches and she’s used to it, but that’s quite a bit and it’s going to be a barn burner,” Ford said.  

The workhorse pitcher from Northwestern was well-known by ASU, but still proved difficult for ASU’s offense and was unshakable in the extra innings with a great defense behind her. 

“The good thing is that she threw a lot of pitches so we saw her and had a lot of at-bats with her and made her throw a lot of pitches so this is the fun stuff and the grind,” Ford said.  

Mac Morgan pitched another gem of a game for ASU but suffered a costly setback in the sixth when she allowed a two-run home run from Rachel Lewis to cut the deficit to 3-2. Lewis continues to be Northwestern’s power hitter with 22 home runs on the season.  

Morgan was relieved by Marissa Schuld after giving up a single to Rudd. Morgan allowed five hits and struck out three batters on 5.1 innings of work. 

Schuld had a shaky start when she entered the game after Maeve Nelson was hit by a pitch, but handled the pressure when Nikki Cuchran flew out to shallow center field for Jazmine Hill to make a double play to end the inning.  

Stellar pitching and defense from both teams created a tight atmosphere in the opening four innings, but the Sun Devils needed one big fly to get its offense rolling.  

Yanni Acuna battled through her at-bat in the fourth inning with several foul balls nearly clearing the wall. She finally found the sweet spot, launching the ball over the fence at left cente to give ASU a 1-0 lead.  

ASU then relied on solo shots from Harper and Alynah Torres to build up a 3-0 lead in the fifth. The Sun Devils now hold a program record of 101 home runs on the season. 

The two teams will meet again at 8 p.m. on Saturday with ASU facing elimination. 

Reach the reporter at jenna.ortiz@arizonarepublic.com or 602-647-4122. Follow her on Twitter @jennarortiz

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