The hill was just too steep to climb.
So now Arizona State has descended from the summit of college softball where the Sun Devils lost two straight games and were eliminated from the Women’s College World Series, unable to get past either Oregon or Oklahoma.
To be fair, this hill was more of a mountain. The Ducks, who beat the Devils, 11-6, on Friday, are the top-ranked team in the country and the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners, who posted a 2-0 shutout in yesterday morning’s game, are ranked No. 3 and the reigning national champions — and were playing in their own backyard in Oklahoma City.
And had the Sun Devils managed to get past Oklahoma, they would have faced No. 4 Florida in an evening contest.
That’s what’s called a Murderer’s Row.
“I don’t think I could be more proud of them as a group,” head coach Trisha Ford said after the final game. “I think we had contributions from freshmen all the way up to fifth-year seniors. They left everything they had on the field today, and that’s all I could ask for.”
ASU finished the season with 48 wins, a regional title, a super regional title, and a trip to the WCWS for the first time in five years. They also climbed the national rankings to finish the season at No. 6.
Not bad for a team that just squeezed into the Top 25 in the preseason rankings and was picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12 Conference.
To the Devils’ credit, they went toe-to-toe against top-ranked Oregon in the opener, using a home run by freshman Denae Chatman to take a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, and another by Morgan Howe in the fifth to cut a Ducks’ lead to one run. But the Ducks added three more runs in the sixth and ASU just couldn’t keep up with Oregon’s offensive production in the 11-6 loss.
ASU racked up eight hits, led by Kindra Hackbarth who went 3-for-4 at the plate. Howe and Skylar McCarty had two hits apiece.
Sophomore lefty Giselle (“G”) Juarez went the distance in the circle in the first game and then started again Saturday morning, going four innings before being replaced by senior Breanna Macha, who pitched the final three frames. Each gave up a run as Juarez was tagged in the third inning for a home run and Macha was in the circle in the sixth when the Sooners added the insurance run with an RBI single to put a cap on the 2-0 victory.
While the ASU pitching tandem was able to hold the Sooner scoring to two runs, the Devils’ offense couldn’t get a handle on Oklahoma’s ace, Paige Parker (30-3). The 5’11” senior, considered one of the country’s best on the rubber, threw just 78 pitches and allowed just two hits for the Devils.
That was especially disappointing for a team that outhit its opponents in the first five postseason games, 43-17, and outscored them 28-5.
Macha will be missed next season. The Mesa Red Mountain High School graduate finishes her college career with 53 wins to put her at No. 12 on the school’s all-time list. Macha and Juarez provided a potent 1-2 punch and led a four-pitcher staff that was one of the best in the game this season. The team ERA of 1.56 is the lowest since 2008, when the Sun Devils won a national championship.
Ford just wrapped up her second season as head coach and took a big step toward returning the ASU program to national prominence. And the future appears even brighter.
“I think if you look at our pieces that we still have in place, we were a very young team,” she points out. “We had Stank (second baseman Marisa Stankiewicz) and Macha, who were just instrumental for us from a leadership standpoint, being seniors. But if you look at the starting lineup, we have a lot of sophomores starting.
“For me, that’s exciting.”
(Photo: ASU Athletics)