Kelsey Kessler walked the first two batters in yesterday’s softball game with LSU in the Baton Rouge Regional.
And then the Arizona State pitcher picked up a sacrifice bunt by the next batter and short-armed the throw to first base, driving the ball into the dirt about midway to the bag. One of her first two mistakes scooted home on the play and the No. 10 Tigers were off to a 1-0 lead.
Not a good way to begin an elimination game in the most important tournament of the year.
The Sun Devils were trying to avoid a second defeat as they began on the long road to the Women’s College World Series. A loss would mean elimination from the regionals for the third year in a row.
McNee State beat them in the opener, but a win over LIU Brooklyn in the loser’s bracket kept them alive long enough to meet up with LSU in the final.
But that was as far as the Devils would get this year as the Tigers went on to a 2-0 victory and a berth in the Super Regionals after winning their second consecutive Baton Rouge Regional.
LSU added its second run in the fifth, but the Sun Devils still had a chance to overcome the deficit in the bottom of the seventh when they loaded the bases, had just one out, and clean-up hitter Nikki Girard at the plate. Girard lined a fly ball to right field and Abby Spiel tagged up and headed for home, but was called out on a disputed call by an umpire that said she missed the plate on the slide.
Kessler, who had already pitched 20 2/3 innings prior to taking the mound yesterday, went four innings before Dale Ryndak relieved her. LSU tagged Kessler for five hits, while Ryndak gave up just one in her three innings. Both pitchers were named to the All-Regional Team after the game.
The Tigers have become the curse of the Sun Devil program. ASU beat them in the opening game at last year’s regional, but LSU came back to face the Devils in the final, and beat them two straight games for the title.
Meanwhile, ASU’s rival to the south was having little trouble with the teams it faced in the Knoxville Regional.
The Arizona Wildcats blanked their first two opponents, beating Ohio State 2-0 and Tennessee 4-0. The final win came in a rematch with Tennessee in a game that went into extra innings before ASU pulled out the 4-3 victory to punch its ticket to the Super Regionals where they will take on No. 4 Auburn next weekend.
A rain delay in the opening game with the Buckeyes on Friday moved the final four innings of that game to Saturday morning, so the Wildcats ended up with what was a shortened version of a double-header on Saturday. But it didn’t slow down Arizona’s drive to the final game, a re-match with Tennessee.
Arizona scored first in the third inning, stringing together three straight hits with two outs and notching the first run of the game when Mo Mercado‘s single pushed home Mandie Perez.
The Vols roared back to take a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning, and Arizona responded with two runs in the fifth to tie the game.
It took just one extra inning for Arizona to secure the title after Tamara Statman singled to score Nancy Bowling for the game-winning run.
Head coach Mike Candrea used his pair of lefties to wrap up the win, with Danielle O’Toole starting on the mound and pitching 5.1 innings, while freshman Taylor McQuillin went 2.2 scoreless innings in relief. O’Toole worked 19.1 innings to carry the Cats through the weekend.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)