Red-hot ASU softball hits wall just before Pac-12 play

On second thought… maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to make a late addition to the Arizona State softball schedule.

Yesterday’s game with Baylor wasn’t added to the schedule until a couple of weeks ago, giving the Sun Devils back-to-back games against the Bears.  All was good after the first game last Thursday, which the Devils won, 7-4.

But the ASU bats, which have been red-hot all season, suddenly went cold in the middle of the second meeting, as Baylor pulled off a 7-2 victory over the No. 10-ranked Sun Devils at Farrington Stadium in Tempe.  ASU led the game until the sixth inning, but the Bears piled up six runs in that inning and the Devils were unable to call up the long ball that usually helps them dig out of a hole like that.

Maddi Hackbarth, the fifth-year catcher from California, has stroked 12 home runs to lead the Pac-12, and her 34 RBIs also lead the conference.  But in this game, she managed just one hit on two appearances at the plate.  The entire team collected just six hits.

And it was an especially bad time to drop a game, just before Pac-12 play is to begin.  ASU had been on a roll all season and had built momentum for starting the conference schedule by stringing together 10 straight wins before the Baylor loss threw cold water on the celebration.

This was a team riding high since the first week on the schedule, when the Devils put 32 runs on the scoreboard for the four games in the opening weekend.  The Baylor loss was just the second of the season for a team that is off to its best start since 2014 and has ascended the national ladder from its preseason ranking of No. 17 to No. 10.

The Sun Devils have the pitching to take them deep into the playoffs, but their offense is a potent weapon again this season.  Hackbarth is leading the assault as the home-run leader in the Pac-12,  and sophomore infielder Alynah Torres has collected six round trips, which puts her third on the Pac-12 list.

Hackbarth’s .491 batting average ranks third in the conference, but that hitting prowess is spread throughout the lineup.  Alli Tatnall, Jazmine Hill, Makenna Harper, and Denae Chatman also sport batting averages above .400.

This looks like just a continuation from the COVID-shortened 2020 season when a 22-7 ASU team led the nation in home runs (50) that were spread across 13 players.  That group had a team batting average of .334 and was No. 1 in the nation in slugging percentage (0.648)

Other than Oklahoma, which was the only other team to beat the Devils this season, Baylor provided a chance for redemption against a good Power 5 program.  The Bears came into the first game with a 14-3 record and had won two of the three games they played against ranked opponents.

Oklahoma was the Devils’ first game of the season against a ranked team, and they picked a top dog for that effort.  The Sooners, who boasted one of the top offenses in the country, were ranked No. 2 in the nation when they met ASU in a Feb. 26 game during a tournament hosted by the Sun Devils.

ASU had expected to have a couple more games before getting started on the Pac-12 schedule, but a doubleheader with UTEP that was scheduled for today was cancelled due to a COVID-19 protocol development in the Miners’ program.

So, next up is UCLA.  The Bruins are 15-1 and, as of last week’s rankings, are No. 3 in the country.  And, to add an additional degree of difficulty, the four-game series this weekend will be played in Los Angeles.

Maybe it’s a good thing the Devils have had a week’s rest to prepare for this trip.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)