ASU downs Florida in 2 straight to win NCAA softball title

ASU fans had one of those ‘uh-oh’ moments last night when left fielder Talor Haro went all the way to the fence to pull in the second out of the first inning – but too far away from home plate to keep Florida second baseman Michelle Moultrie from tagging up and scoring.

Moultrie had doubled to open the second game of the NCAA Championship series.

That meant the Gators would start the game with a 1-0 lead, the first time they had the early lead in the two previous Women’s College World Series games between the two teams.

That couldn’t be a good sign. In fact, it might have been seen as a bad omen.

But the Sun Devils weren’t worried.  They knew the second inning has always been good to them.  Up to that point, they had outscored opponents during the post-season 121-18 in the second frame.

And the final game for the national title was no different.  After scoring six runs Monday night in the first game of the three-game series, ASU put three on the board in the second last night to take a 3-1 lead which they never relinquished on the way to a 7-2 victory and the school’s second national championship.

ASU’s freshman ace Dallas Escobedo, who gave up the double and the run, apparently wasn’t concerned with the results of the first inning either.

She admitted after the game that she doesn’t feel she pitches well in the first inning of any game.  “I’m just glad we got out of it with just one score,” she offered.

Escobedo was on the mound for all 10 games of the post-season, as the Sun Devils worked their way undefeated through the regionals, the super regionals, and finally the WCWS.

In carrying her team to the national title, Escobedo became the first freshman in the last 20 years to accomplish the feat.  The last to do it was Heather Compton, who pitched the UCLA Bruins to the 1990 title.

But the youngster from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix had lots of help.  The Sun Devils, the best team in fielding defense in the Pac-10 this year, became just the third team to win the title without committing an error on their run through the World Series.

And on offense, they can score any number of ways.  The Devils entered the championship series with a starting line-up in which each batter was carrying a .300 average or better.

In the opening game of the championship series, they pounded out five home runs to help secure the 14-4 win.  Last night they just chipped away with small hits to build a nice lead until the sixth inning, when Annie Lockwood put a solo homer out of Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.

Junior Katelyn Boyd and the freshman outfielder, Alix Johnson, each made huge contributions at the plate last night.  They each drove in three runs.

As the No. 1-ranked team in the country, the Sun Devils had a target on their backs from the time the post-season started.  And they beat the odds by going undefeated to become the first No. 1 team in a decade to go on to win it all.

The title run also elevated the program to elite status as one of just three schools to have won multiple national championships.  The others are UCLA and Texas A&M.

Head coach Clint Myers took that honor in stride.  “We’re not UCLA or UofA yet, but give us time,” he said during a post-game interview.  ASU earlier this season beat Arizona, which made it to the NCAA championship series last year, in three straight games in Tucson, a first for the program.

But they weren’t ready to celebrate this one until the bottom of the seventh inning when Escobedo struck out the final Florida batter, Kelsey Bruder, on a hard high-rising fast ball.

When that final out did come, it was the culmination of an amazing year when the team compiled a 60-6 overall record and earned the program its first-ever No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

But the high level of competition the Sun Devils faced in conference play during the regular season did a lot to prepare the team for post-season play.  A Pac-10 team has won each of the last six national titles, and the conference has won 23 of the 29 titles all time.

“We’re fortunate to play in a great conference,” Myers pointed out.  “Every single weekend it’s a playoff, and it gets you ready for regionals and super regionals.”

He also acknowledged Escobedo’s contribution to this year’s success:  “There’s a reason why it takes 20 years or 30 years for a freshman to lead a club to a national championship, because it’s such a rarity.  It just doesn’t happen.  Only a unique, special type person can have that.”

Thankfully, he will have that special talent on the mound for another three years because ASU graduates eight seniors from this squad.  Next year will be an interesting adjustment for the Sun Devils.

But it’s time now for savoring the moment.  Next year will come soon enough.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)