It’s looking a lot like 2011, when the Arizona State softball team rode their big freshman hurler to a national title.
Dallas Escobedo is back again – and so are the Sun Devils. Back in the Women’s College World Series for an 11th trip to Oklahoma City.
ASU made it to the WCWS last year, but was stopped short in its quest for a second straight title, losing to Alabama and then Oklahoma to settle for a third-place finish. The Devils finished 24-8 on the year and went 4-for-8 in the post-season.
But there were no missteps through post-season play this season as Escobedo & Co. beat San Jose State and Georgia in the NCAA Regionals and then whupped No. 19 Kentucky, 5-4 and 5-2, in the Super Regionals to punch their ticket to the World Series.
And that harkens back to 2011, when the Sun Devils rolled undefeated through regionals, super regionals, and the WCWS to become the first team in a decade to enter the season with a No. 1 national ranking and then go on to win a national title. They joined UCLA and Texas A&M as the only three college softball teams to have won multiple national championships.
Escobedo was on the mound for every one of the 10 post-season games, becoming the first freshman in 20 years to carry a school to the national title.
Fast forward to 2013. The No. 5-ranked Sun Devils (50-10) are undefeated in the post-season and the big workhorse from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix is once again in the forefront of the charge to return for another title shot.
The intimidating 6-footer started the post-season by throwing a no-hitter against San Jose State – the first ever in post-season play in the history of the ASU program. She followed that up by tossing a one-hit shutout against Georgia, striking out 11 and allowing just one walk, and then beat the Bulldogs a second time the next day, posting identical 2-0 scores for both games.
She pitched 21 innings during the three-game regionals, striking out 21 and allowing just four hits.
It was more of the same in the Super Regionals, as ASU added the Kentucky Wildcats to its path of stepping stones to Oklahoma City, rolling through the Tempe Super Regionals over the weekend with 5-4 and 5-2 victories.
A home run by Kentucky’s Christian Stokes in the top of the fifth put an end to Escobedo’s string of 35 consecutive innings without an earned run, but a home run by Cheyenne Coyle and a 3-for-3 performance at the plate by Alix Johnson helped the Devils build a 5-1 lead that Kentucky couldn’t overcome. Mackenzie Popescue, the junior from Chaparral High School in Scottsdale relieved Escobedo in the top of the seventh to put the lid on this one.
Sunday’s game provided more of a challenge, as the score was tied twice before a two-run homer in the seventh by Haley Steele sealed the victory and gave Escobedo her 30th win of the season. It was Steele’s 11th home run and the team’s 94th.
Escobedo will enter Thursday’s game against Texas with a 30-4 record and an impressive 1.24 ERA in post-season play.
However, she’s going to have to share the spotlight with Blaire Luna, the Longhorns’ outstanding senior pitcher that has helped the No. 6 Longhorns rack up a 49-8 season, the third-best in school history.
The parallels between the two mound aces is eerily similar. Luna is 30-5 and pitched 29 innings through the post-season, striking out 42 and compiling a 0.97 ERA. She, too, threw a no-hitter in dispatching Florida State in the Super Regionals – her fourth of the season.
The double-elimination format for the path to the championship game will be televised on the ESPN Networks. Thursday’s meeting between No. 5 ASU and No. 6 Texas will be shown on ESPN2, with first pitch scheduled for 4 p.m. Arizona time.
To borrow a phrase from public broadcasting… this will be television worth watching.