Strong pitching key to ASU softball defending its nat’l title

How do you beat Arizona State‘s two-headed monster on the mound?  Only four teams have been able to figure that one out so far this season.

And that’s why it’s going to be difficult for the rest of the college softball teams to keep ASU, the defending national champion, from working its way back to the championship game again this year.

The Sun Devils have two of the best pitchers in the country.  Not one, like many of the top teams, but a pair of them.  Dallas Escobedo is the hard-throwing sophomore from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix and Hillary Bach is the imposing 6’2″ senior hurler from Oklahoma who just posted her 82nd career victory to put her second on the school’s all-time list.

And they’re both hitting their stride as the No. 7/5 Sun Devils begin working their way through conference play – and back up the national polls.

The Devils swept then-No. 14 Arizona in a three-game series to open their Pac-12 schedule and have won seven of their eight conference games.  They split with Oregon and that loss went to Escobedo, who has been tagged with three of the four season losses.

Escobedo earned near-legendary stature in her prep career, amassing 1,882 strikeouts, which was considered a national record.  She put an exclamation point on her four years at St. Mary’s with a 33-3 record her senior year that included 500 strikeouts and a 0.58 ERA.  Add to that 10 no-hitters and three perfect games that final year and you have one of the best high school pitchers in the country, choosing to stay at home to play for ASU.

Last year, she went 37-3 as a freshman and posted 326 strikeouts and a 1.51 ERA to help propel the Sun Devils to the national championship.

Escobedo and teammate Katelyn Boyd, the senior shortstop from Horizon High School in Scottsdale, were named at the start of the season to the Top 50 Watch List for the college player of the year.  Both earned All-American honors last year.

Bach, who posted a perfect 10-0 record as a junior, has yet to lose a game again this year.  Her 15-0 mark and 1.13 ERA has her ranked 14th nationally.

She and Escobedo put their talents on display last weekend in a three-game sweep of No. 13 UCLA, as Escobedo beat the Bruins 9-1 in the opener, Bach pitched an identical 9-1 win on Saturday, and Escobedo finished out the three games with a  4-2 closer.

Not only was UCLA ranked 13th in the country, but the Bruins came into the series in Tempe as the nation’s top D-I team in batting average (.375) and slugging percentage (.628).  They were also scoring almost eight runs a game, second-best in the country, and fourth in home-run production.

And Bach and Escobedo held them to four runs over three games, two of which were run-ruled.

ASU also showed the kind of offensive support during the UCLA series that the pitching duo have been getting all year long.  Talor Haro, the senior outfielder from Gilbert’s Highland High School, went 3-for-3 in the opener and Amber Freeman added a home run, the freshman’s sixth of the season.

Another home run, this one from Elizabeth Caporuscio (her 12th), and a pair of RBIs from Annie Lockwood, the senior outfielder from Paradise Valley High School, led to the second win.  Lockwood’s double to score the runs was her sixth of the season.  In the finale, it was Boyd’s turn to hit one out of the park, as she recorded her 15th homer of the season and 58th of her career.

The dominant wins over a highly-ranked team like the Bruins should give the former No. 1 team a boost in their poll numbers as they work their way back up the ladder.

The Devils are in Corvallis now to take on yet another ranked team in No. 23 Oregon State.  The three-game series includes a double header this afternoon and a noon game tomorrow.

May 31 marks the start of the Women’s College World Series.  The ASU express is working its way back to Oklahoma City, one game at a time.

And the pitching of Hillary Bach and Dallas Escobedo is the engine that will get them there.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)