ASU softball season ends early with regional losses – again

The euphoria that has hung over the Arizona State softball program since its trip to the Women’s College World Series in 2018 is beginning to evaporate.

Reality has set in for a program that was used to making regular appearances at the WCWS prior to 2013.  That’s when head coach Clint Myers left to become Auburn’s head coach, after winning two national titles during his eight years directing the storied ASU program.

The Sun Devils were just eliminated from postseason play after two straight losses in the regionals.  As bad as that was, it marks  the second consecutive year the team has been unable to even advance to the super regionals, the final step before earning a trip to the WCWS.

When Trisha Ford was hired prior to the 2017 season, it was with the expectation that she could turn around a program that had been moribund since Myers’ departure.  Her first year was a disappointment since that team was eliminated in the regionals to make it four straight failed attempts to reach the super regionals.

But it looked like the turnaround was beginning the next year when the 2018 squad was able to punch its ticket to the WCWS.  It was the first time in five years that an ASU team made the trip to Oklahoma City, and its 48-13 finish was the best record since 2013.

A bad luck of the draw had that team playing the two top-ranked teams in the country in its opening game.  The Devils lost to Oregon in the first game, and bowed out to two-time defending national champion, Oklahoma, in the elimination game.

But at least that group got there, an expectation that any new coach at the Pac-12 power is faced with.

This year it was Virginia Tech and BYU that combined to send the No. 15 seed Sun Devils home.  The Hokies jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, used a home run in the fourth to stretch the lead to 6-1, and the Devils were unable to catch up, despite home runs from Makenna Harper and Bella Loomis.  The final: VTU 8, ASU 2.

The second game was similar to the first, as BYU took a 2-0 lead in the first and increased the margin to 4-1 in the second before the ASU bats began to respond and close the gap to 4-3 later that inning, thanks to a double by Alynah Torres that scored Loomis and Kindra Hackbarth.

ASU was able to take the lead in the fifth and held a 7-5 advantage until the Cougars exploded for four runs in the sixth to retrieve the lead, 9-7.  A solo shot by Yannira Acuna in the seventh closed the gap, but the Devils were done after that and dropped a 9-8 heartbreaker.

The ASU batters piled up 12 hits in the losing effort, but the Sun Devil pitchers gave up 13 to the Cougars.

The 2021 ASU team finished the regular season ranked No. 12 in the country (USAToday/NFCA), closed out the year with a 33-16 record, and made the program’s 16th consecutive NCAA postseason appearance.

Those are impressive numbers by themselves, but not the goal Ford was given when she was hired to revive the program.  Anything less than a super regional appearance won’t satisfy the Sun Devil fans.

And another trip to the WCWS better not be too far down the road.

(Photo: ASU Athletics)