ASU softball loses series to Cal…along with Pac-12 crown

Today’s game with California will be a particularly difficult one for the Arizona State softball team.  But not just because the Golden Bears are the No. 1 team in the Pac-12 conference.

This will be a tough one from a mental standpoint.  The Sun Devils dropped the first two games of this series and, in the process, lost its opportunity to win the conference crown and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Now, they need to pick themselves up and play a game that will seem almost meaningless.

ASU entered the three-game series in Berkeley in second place in the conference, but so close behind top-ranked California that whomever won the series would win the conference, since the Pac-12 doesn’t have an official conference championship tournament.  The winner is the team with the best winning percentage.

The Sun Devils entered the weekend series with a 17-2 conference record, for a .895 winning percentage, while Cal was 19-2 for a .905 mark.

And, thanks to a 4-2 ASU loss Thursday and a 5-0 shutout yesterday, Cal’s lead will only become bigger.

The Sun Devils came into this series on a high, scoring 32 runs and seven homers in three games against Utah last weekend.  It was the fifth sweep of the conference season, the most under 7th-year head coach Clint Myers.

Those three wins against the Utes made it 10 in a row.

And on an individual level, the Devils celebrated the 56th double by senior shortstop, Katelyn Boyd – which gave her the No. 1 spot in the ASU record books for career doubles.  Boyd is a local favorite, coming from Horizon High School in Scottsdale.

But the euphoria evaporated Thursday night when the Devils blew a 2-0 lead to the Bears and gave up a two-run walk-off home run in the seventh inning that broke a 2-2 tie.  Amber Freeman‘s home run over the left-center fence for ASU was her 10th of the year – but the Devils couldn’t hold on to the lead she gave them.

Yesterday’s 5-0 loss was a game the Devils probably figured they could put in the win column because their ace was on the mound – and she hadn’t lost all season.

Hillary Bach, the senior who has run up a 19-1 record, suffered her first loss when California kept methodically building a lead.  The Bears scored one run in the bottom of the second, another in the fourth, and the final three in the fifth inning.  Mackenzie Popescue came in to relieve Bach in the fifth and was tagged with Cal’s fifth score.

While the losses were crushing, there is little shame in being beat by California pitching.  Jolene Henderson won the first game for the Bears and Valerie Arioto pitched a complete game in the second win.  The duo, arguably the best 1-2 punch in the country, has just three losses between them this season.

But that will do little to comfort ASU as it tries to re-group and salvage a little pride this afternoon.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)