Arizona teams start Pac-10 softball in a winning way

Surf’s up for Arizona’s Pac-10 softball teams!

Arizona’s representatives took to the road over the weekend to open conference play in California.  Both swept their respective series, with No. 4 ASU taking two-of-three from the No. 8 Cal Bears and No. 9 UofA sweeping their three-game series against No. 12 Stanford.

Arizona State won both of the opening games against California, 3-1 and 7-2, but overstayed its welcome and dropped yesterday’s game, 2-3, on a walk in the seventh inning that scored the winning run.

The opener was a pitching duel, won by Dallas Escobedo to push her record to 16-1 on the year and help the Sun Devils to their seventh straight win.   The freshman’s only loss to that point was against No. 6 Michigan in mid-March, when the Wolverines nipped ASU, 1-0, to break their 23-game winning streak.

Cal jumped to a 1-0 lead in the second game, just as they had in the opener, and once again the Devils came from behind for the 7-2 win.  Escobedo fanned seven for another win, and Annie Lockwood, a junior infielder from Paradise Valley High School, sealed the deal with two home runs.

But the Sun Devils  jumped out first in the final game, which turned things upside down and gave Escobedo her second loss of the season (and her college career).  A home run by Sam Parlich, her ninth of the season, gave the Devils a 2-0 lead in the third, but Cal came back to tie it up and then backed into the win when Mackenzie Popescue pitched into a bases-loaded dilemma in the seventh, eventually walking in the winning run.

Escobedo was the Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year last year at St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix and the No. 1 recruit coming out of the state last year.  She struck out 500 hitters her senior year and tossed 10 no-hitters.  During her career at St. Mary’s, she set records that may never be broken, including 1,882 strike-outs, 37 no-hit games, and five perfect games.

Parlich and Popescue are also both local products.  Parlich, a sophomore who plays second base and gets some work on the mound, was a first team All-State selection at Basha High School in Chandler.  Popescue is a redshirt freshman who was a four-time All-State selection at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale.

ASU (35-3) rolled into conference play behind some outstanding pitching this season by Escobedo and junior, Hillary Bach.  In the final non-conference game, a 9-1 win over University of California Santa Barbara, Bach earned the win to go 9-0 on the year and move into fifth place in ASU career wins.  Escobedo is 17-2 on the year.

That win was at home and extended the other winning streak ASU has going.  They have won 25 straight at Farrington Stadium.

The University of Arizona, 31-6 on the year, has its own stable of outstanding pitchers, led by sophomore Kenzie Fowler who pitched the Cats to the Women’s College World Series championship and a No. 3 national ranking last season.  She is joined by Shelby Babcock, a freshman pitcher from Colorado, who is 12-2 this season.

Fowler picked up the 8-0 win in the series opener against Stanford, tossing a five-inning (run-ruled) shutout, and then came back in Sunday’s finale to post her 20th win of the season (20-4) by blanking the Cardinal, 2-0.  She struck out 10 in the finale.

The sophomore from nearby Canyon del Oro High School, just outside of Tucson, has given up just eight hits in her last 29.2 innings and has not allowed an earned run in her last 34.2 innings.

Babcock pitched just over half the middle game against Stanford, a 6-1 win.  She gave up four hits before Fowler came in for the final three innings to record the save.

The pitchers had a lot of help at the plate throughout the series.  In the opener, Brittany Lastrapes went 3-for-4 and Baillie Kirker had a 2-for-3 performance.  In Saturday’s game, all but two starters got a hit.

But it was the Pac-10 Player of the Week, Brigette Del Ponte, who was the most prolific in the line-up.  The sophomore from Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria doubled twice in both of the first two games, and then homered in yesterday’s game.

Del Ponte, a 5’3″ third baseman, now has eight doubles and three home runs in her last 19 at-bats and is on a 10-game hitting streak.

The Wildcats have enjoyed nothing but success on the road, sweeping a series from New Mexico State in their only other road trip of the season.  They’ll try to keep the string alive this weekend when they travel to Corvallis  to take on Oregon State.

ASU will be in Eugene to play the Oregon Ducks in a three-game series.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)