What a difference a year can make in college sports.
Last year, the No. 1 Arizona State softball team lost two straight games to Florida in the Super Regionals to end their chance to get to the Women’s College World Series.
Yesterday, they finished a two-game sweep of No. 16 Texas A&M to punch their ticket to the 2011 WCWS, the ninth trip in the program’s history.
Last year, the No. 8 Arizona Wildcats won their Super Regional and went on to start their trip through the WCWS, eventually meeting UCLA in the national championship game (which UCLA won).
Yesterday, they dropped their first Super Regional game to No. 9 Oklahoma, 6-0, and now must beat the Sooners twice today in back-to-back games if they want to get back to the World Series.
They have done it before; two years ago they lost their first game to Stanford in Super Regional play and came back to win the next two. But it will be a daunting task.
Actually, it will be more than just daunting if their No. 1 pitcher, Kenzie Fowler, has another day like yesterday. The outstanding sophomore, who carried the team to the NCAA Championship last year, started against Oklahoma, but was yanked in the fourth inning after allowing five runs.
But it was a different story in Tempe, where Arizona State’s much-heralded freshman, Dallas Escobedo, pitched a nine-strikeout gem to run her season record to 32-3 and put her on the road to her first Women’s College World Series appearance.
Putting together a couple of offensive performances to support Escobedo on the mound, the Sun Devils continued to play like they own Texas A&M. ASU blanked the Aggies in two straight games to win the 2008 national title, and then beat them in a 10-4 rout when they met last year.
In Thursday’s Super Regional opener, the Sun Devils (55-6) pulled out a 3-2 victory when senior Kaylyn Castillo smacked a two-RBI single in the bottom of the seventh to fuel a drama-filled comeback in front of a sell-out crowd of 2,136 at Farrington Stadium.
It was the perfect ending to a 15-strikeout performance by Escobedo.
And last night, Castillo picked up where she left off in the first game. The diminutive catcher from California parked a home run over the centerfield fence – her ninth of the season – in the first inning to score two runs and give the Sun Devils an early lead they would hold the rest of the way. ASU picked up their final two runs in the fifth.
Escobedo held the Aggies scoreless through five innings, but gave up a two-run homer to Meagan May in the sixth.
The winners of the eight Super Regionals will advance to the Women’s College World Series. For ASU, it’s the fifth time the team has made the trip in the six years it has been under the direction of head coach, Clint Myers.
And, by this evening, we’ll know if the Wildcats will be joining them.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)