The arrival of Trisha Ford last June to take over the Arizona State softball program has already resulted in a return to normalcy for a tradition-rich program that lost a head coach that had produced two national titles, followed by a coach that lasted just two seasons, and a disastrous 2017 season that was run by co-interim head coaches.
And this weekend, softball fans across the state got to see what a coaching change can mean to an in-state rivalry between two of the top college softball programs in the nation. This time around, the Sun Devils were ranked N0. 8 in the country and University of Arizona came into the three-game series in Tempe ranked No. 13.
ASU won the first game and lost the next two, but the series itself was a fan’s delight…a series decided on a single in extra innings.
In Game 1… Arizona’s lead-off hitter Ashleigh Hughes got the fans’ attention right away, starting the game with a home run in the first at-bat of the game, the senior’s fifth round-trip of the season.
The Sun Devils responded with a blast of their own when lead-off hitter Kindra Hackbarth parked one over the right-field fence to tie the score at 1-1 in the bottom of the fourth.
However, what appeared at first to be a potential slugfest turned out to be a pitcher’s duel. Taylor McQuillen held the Sun Devil batters to just three hits and allowed just three batters to get on base. ASU’s Giselle Juarez, a sophomore from Glendale’s Mountain Ridge High School and the Pac-12’s leader in strikeouts and ERA, struck out 13, allowed just three hits, and retired the final 15 batters.
The suspense lasted until the seventh inning before ASU broke through for the 2-1 victory. Danielle Gibson doubled to center to score Morgan Howe from first, and gave the standing-room only crowd of 2,045 at Farrington Stadium what they had come to see.
In Game 2… Once again, ASU started its scoring with a home run, this time from Howe in the bottom of the fourth inning. However, the Wildcats had already plated three runs of their own in the top of that inning when Aleah Craighton led off with a double, came home on a single by Carli Campbell, and then Reyna Carranco doubled to bring home two more runs.
Arizona’s sophomore pitcher, Alyssa Denham, held ASU to just two hits in the 4-1 win. The Cats put up eight hits against the Devils’ starter, Breanna Macha, a senior right-hander from Red Mountain High School in Mesa. She stranded nine runners.
With one win apiece, the suspense was able to build going into Sunday’s rubber match. And that game kept the fans on the edge of their seats as the game went into extra innings, with the Territorial Cup point hanging in the balance.
In Game 3… A pitching re-match of the first game put McQuillen against Juarez one more time, and each stayed in the circle for the entire contest, which was stuck at 2-2 at the end of seven innings.
Arizona struck first in the eighth inning when, with bases loaded, sophomore Jessie Harper singled to center to bring home the two runs needed for the win. McQuillen retired the side as the Devils came up empty in their final at-bats, giving the Cats a 4-2 victory and the series win.
For the Wildcats (31-13), it was the first series win against a Pac-12 opponent since they swept Cal three weeks ago. For ASU (35-9), it becomes the second straight Pac-12 series loss.
Farrington Stadium filled 6,122 seats for the three games. And those fans, from both sides of the rivalry, got something to enjoy on a beautiful spring weekend
(Photo: Arizona Athletics/ Stan Liu)