UA coasting, but is ASU softball running out of gas?

The ASU softball team is like a stagecoach using just one horse to draw it.  And that horse is getting tired.

Over the weekend, the Sun Devils (40-13) lost two of three games to lowly Oregon State, making them just a .500 team in the Pac-10 standings at 9-9.  The Beavers (24-28) had won just two conference games coming into the series.

Hillary Bach, the extraordinary sophomore pitcher for the Devils, took the mound for all three games, throwing for almost 21 straight innings – a total of 300 pitches in three days.

The one win for the Devils in the series was the opener, when Bach was throwing against an OSU pitcher who had only completed three games all year – and lost two of those.  ASU won the 4-3 game by piling up eight hits, but had to come from behind after the Beavers took a 3-0 lead early.

But it has been more than a one series let-down by the No. 7 ranked team in the country.  The Devils had trouble with Stanford the week before.  They took the series over the 14th-ranked Cardinal, but were far from the dominant force they appeared to be earlier in the season.  The first win was 2-0 and the other win was another slim victory, 3-2.  The game they lost was a 8-0 blowout that went only five innings.

Compare that to the middle of last month when they swept UCLA, at their place – the first time in the program’s history they were able to that against a Bruin team.  Bach pitched the bookend games and the Devils rose to No. 6 in the polls.

Sam Parlich, the Devils’ freshman pitcher out of Basha HS in Chandler,  took the loss in the Stanford series.  She was also on the mound for a 7-4 loss to the No. 20 Oregon Ducks the week before.

So Bach (22-6) is having to do more of the heavy lifting late in the season.

And the load gets even heavier this weekend when ASU returns home for one last series.  They will take on the top-ranked Washington Huskies.

It’s not likely that the Devils will still be ranked No. 7 when the standings are released tomorrow.  The losses to unranked Oregon State are likely to have repurcussions.

And it means they will continue to eat the trail dust left behind by rival University of Arizona, who are sitting in the No. 3 position and likely will stay there after taking a weekend series from No. 22 Oregon.

The Wildcats (42-9, 12-6) won two games handily from the Ducks, taking the opener 8-3 by scoring seven runs in the sixth inning and the Sunday finale, with an 11-0 spanking that lasted just five innings.  Their only loss, a 2-1 decision, went 11 innings before a walk-off homer sealed the deal for Oregon.

The opening win belonged to freshman pitching sensation Kenzie Fowler.  With that victory, she became only the second freshman pitcher in Arizona history to record a 30-win season.  She also won the Sunday finale, bringing her record to 31-6.

Regardless where both programs end up this year, Bach and Fowler are bringing nothing but upside for the next couple of years.

If Bach’s arm doesn’t fall off trying to get through this year.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)