Arizona softball stuns No. 3 ASU, ruins Pac-12 title hopes

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                </div>The roof fell in on the Arizona State softball team over the weekend.  Not on their stadium, but on their season. It’s not just an old axiom that says you […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The roof fell in on the Arizona State softball team over the weekend.  Not on their stadium, but on their season.

It’s not just an old axiom that says you can throw out records and past performances when going into a rivalry game.  All of that means nothing when bragging rights and pride are on the line.

The Arizona Wildcats proved that this weekend by taking the first two games of the three-game series against the Sun Devils, who came into the series as the No. 3-ranked team in the country and in position to win the Pac-12 title.  A win by the Cats this afternoon would be something most UofA fans could not have imagined in their wildest dreams coming into the weekend: a sweep of one of the country’s best teams.

Arizona (30-22, 7-13) was not ranked.  They’re in last place in the Pac-12 Conference standings.  And they came into the series against their in-state rivals with their tails between their legs after getting swept by Oregon State – which had won just four conference games all season.  The Beavers held the high-powered ASU offense to just three runs in 22 innings.

On the flip side, ASU (42-9, 13-7) was coming off a three-game sweep of then-No. 10 California.  The Devils were among the national leaders in offensive… first in home runs at 1.7 per game and slugging average (.605), and second in batting average (.347) and scoring (7.4 a game).

But all that meant little to the Wildcats, who were focused on using a series win over ASU as a way to salvage a season and help their school move up in the Territorial Cup race.

(*Update: ASU came back Sunday to pull out a 7-6 come-back win by scoring four runs in the seventh inning to avoid the sweep by the Wildcats.  Mackenzie Popescue picked up her 18th win of the season in relief of Dallas Escobedo, and Sam Parlich went 3-for-4 at the plate.)

The Cats won Friday’s contest by tagging ASU’s ace pitchers, Dallas Escobedo and Mackenzie Popescue, for a combined 12 runs; spread their runs over five different innings; and won in the bottom of the seventh with a two-out single from Hallie WilsonChelsea Goodacre, who had hit just one home run in the previous 13 games, parked two to help spark the 10-9 win.

On Saturday, it was another come-from-behind performance by Arizona after being down four runs in the fifth inning.  But three runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth were enough to push the Cats into a 6-4 victory, fueled by a pair of doubles by Alex Lavine, the junior from Mountain Ridge High School in Glendale, and a three-run homer in the sixth from Mandie Perez.

Popescue took the loss, her second straight after being credited with Friday’s loss when she entered that game in the sixth inning.  They were just her fourth and fifth losses of the season.

Arizona’s Shelby Babcock earned the win in the opener to push her record to 16-9, while the junior transfer from Yavapai College in Prescott, Estela Pinon, got the win Saturday in relief of Nancy Bowling, the freshman from California.

The fact that those victories will keep the Sun Devils from any chance at the Pac-12 title this year is just icing on the cake.

ASU was sitting just two games behind Oregon, in second place in the conference – and the Devils play the Ducks next week to finish out the season.  Had ASU swept the series with Arizona, as they had been expected to do, they would have been in a strong position when the No. 4 Ducks rolled into Farrington Stadium in Tempe to essentially play for the Pac-12 title.

What a showdown that would have been!  The No. 3 and No. 4 teams in the country meeting for the Pac-12 title – a showcase event that would have played to sell-out crowds.

Oregon (44-7, 17-3) made sure that won’t happen now.  The Ducks beat Oregon State in their first two games of a three-game series that will also wrap up this afternoon in Eugene.

A win by ASU in today’s 3 p.m. game in Tucson will salvage a little pride.  But it can’t repair the damage done in the first two games.

And, this year, that damage extends far beyond bragging rights.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)