ASU softball plays past midnight, loses bid for 3rd nat’l title

If you were looking for the results of yesterday’s Women’s College World Series game between Arizona State and Michigan in this morning’s newspaper, don’t blame The Republic for its omission.  The game just ended too late to meet their deadline.

Waaaay too late.

The Sun Devils had to wait almost three hours past their scheduled start time to get on the field, thanks to a 15-inning marathon in the game before theirs between Florida and Nebraska.  Florida didn’t wrap up that win until two hours and 54 minutes past the original start time of the ASU-Michigan contest.

But, as it turned out, ASU fans wouldn’t have been happy with the article, had it made it into the paper.  The Wolverines moved on toward the title game with a 2-0 victory and the Devils packed their bags to head home since it was their second loss in the double elimination tournament; they were beaten by Texas, 6-3, in the WCWS opener on Thursday.

This will go down as one of the most memorable trips to the World Series for the softball program – and it has nothing to do with the fact that they came up empty this year.

They spent the day between their first and second games hunkered down, first in their hotel and then across the street in an underground shelter where some 1,000 people were gathered, as some of the most destructive types of tornado roared through the state.  One tornado was spotted just a mile from their hotel.

When they emerged Saturday morning for their 1:30 game  (Oklahoma time), they found out it had been re-scheduled for 8:30 last night.  After torrential downpours that dumped seven inches of rain on the area, the games set for Friday night had to be moved forward, which affected the entire schedule for Saturday.

As the 8:30 start time rolled around, it was rapidly becoming obvious that the game wouldn’t begin on time since Florida and Nebraska were knotted at 6-6 and it would take extra innings to determine who would stay alive to meet Texas.

But no one had any idea just how many innings it would take.

The game lasted five hours and 20 minutes, the longest game in the history of the Gator program and the longest College World Series game in almost 20 years.  It took 534 pitches before Florida came up with a couple of runs in the top of the 15th that would hold for the 9-8 win.

But now it was almost 11:30 in Oklahoma City and the Sun Devils could finally take the field for their warm-ups.  So the first pitch of the game didn’t leave Dallas Escobedo‘s hand until six minutes before midnight.

Before the first inning was over, the Saturday night game had become a Sunday morning game.  And it was just a few minutes before 2:30 a.m. before the final out was recorded and the crowd of nearly 10,000 were able to escape the damp chill in Hall of Fame Stadium.

Thank goodness this one didn’t have to go into extra innings.

But something about this game didn’t feel right from the start.  Escobedo, the junior ace from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix, was having control problems.  She got out of the first inning, but put two runners on base, one with a walk and the other when she hit the batter.

It took her 31 pitches to get through the first inning.

She pitched just one out into the third inning before handing the ball over to Mackenzie Popescue, the junior from Chaparral High in Scottsdale.  Her stats for her short stay included allowing two runs on three hits, while issuing four free trips to first base.

The loss was Escobedo’s sixth all season, to go with 30 wins, and it was her pitching that brought the Devils through the regionals and super regionals undefeated.  This just wasn’t her night.

It was the offense that normally carries the No. 4 team in the country through these kind of games.  But the ASU hitters faltered against Texas and couldn’t find an answer to Sara Driesenga last night.

The Devils finished with seven hits, but Driesenga’s dropping fast ball kept the ASU hitters from being able to use the long ball as an offensive weapon, as they have done so often this season.

They did have their opportunities to score, though.  ASU had bases loaded in the third and loaded them up twice in the fifth.  In the fifth, a double play nullified the threat the first time they loaded up, and then Driesenga put the fire out the second time with a timely strike-out to end the inning, one of just five strike-outs in her seven innings. She wasn’t flashy, just efficient.

ASU finishes the season 50-12.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)