Thursday, May 24, 2018

First quarter Mercury lead evaporates in loss to Storm

By Scott Mammoser

PHOENIX – A 31-point second quarter allowed the Seattle Storm to erase a double-digit deficit and win at the Phoenix Mercury, 87-71, on Wednesday, with Jewell Loyd scoring 22 of her 29 in the second half.

Double-digit lead evaporates in loss to Storm
“We just didn’t execute very well,” Mercury coach Sandy Brondello said. “It’s hard to keep a great player (Loyd) down two games in a row. It’s a game we can learn a lot from. I say, ‘Welcome to the WNBA,’ you never know what you’re going to get, every single game. That’s how strong this league is.”

The Mercury (2-1) scored the first eight points of the game, until Loyd scored at the 7:20 mark. Briann January answered with a three, and the largest Mercury lead would be 13-2. 
Things came apart for the Mercury shortly after, as the Storm (1-1) found its rhythm, coming within 20-15 after the first, taking a 23-22 lead and widening the lead to 46-33 at the half. Breanna Stewart and Sue Bird knocked down consecutive three pointers to bring Seattle to the break. Phoenix cut it to 62-57 after three behind Griner’s nine and Taurasi’s seven points in the period.

“We had a lack of focus from a veteran team like this, it’s unacceptable,” Taurasi said. “We take that one on the chin. The WNBA season is a work in progress because it’s so short. Week to week, month to month, you’re trying to figure out what works best against certain teams, and today wasn’t one of those days.”

The fourth quarter saw Loyd add 14 points and Alysha Clark eight of her 16 for the Storm, as it redeemed itself from Sunday’s 87-82 loss to the Mercury in its home opener. Loyd was 3-of-11 for 10 points in that game, as Brondello referenced earlier. Griner, who had 29 points and 10 rebounds in Sunday’s win, scored 18 on Wednesday, Taurasi finished with 23, and DeWanna Bonner grabbed nine rebounds, eight on the defensive side.

“It’s early, we can’t panic,” Mercury forward Camille Little said. “We missed shots, they made shots, it’s not a good thing, it happens.”

The Mercury is at the Sparks at 2 p.m. on Sunday and returns home at 7 p.m. May 30 to meet the Washington Mystics. The Storm hosts Chicago at 7 p.m. on Friday, its first non-Mercury opponent this season, including two preseason games with Phoenix.

“We treated tonight like a playoff game,” first-year Storm coach Dan Hughes said about seeing the same opponent so many times. “We had a couple of days to make adjustments, and we used it the same way we would for the playoffs.”

Monday, May 21, 2018

Sun Devils obliterate Rebels to punch ticket to Super Regionals

By Scott Mammoser

Sun Devils celebrate victory at NCAA Regionals
TEMPE, Ariz. – The Arizona State softball team put together a dominating effort to eliminate the University of Mississippi, 9-0 in five innings, and advance to its first NCAA Super Regional since 2013, also the year of its last Women’s College World Series appearance. 

The eighth-seeded Sun Devils went a perfect 3-0 in the Tempe Regional and outscored its opponents (New Mexico State and Ole Miss twice) 18-1.

“I’m so proud of them tonight,” ASU coach Trisha Ford said. “Pitching, defense, all facets of our game were rolling. They did a great job of executing their plan. They were focused, and you could see it in their eyes. I enjoyed watching them compete, and this is the type of team I like to coach.”

ASU will host ninth-seeded South Carolina in the Super Regional next weekend in a best-of-three format. The Gamecocks needed to beat Liberty twice on Sunday to advance. All 16 of the top-seeded host teams moved on to the Super Regionals, and all except defending champion Oklahoma and Florida State represent either the SEC or Pac-12 Conference. 

The Sun Devils scored five of their runs in the first and four in the third inning. With runners on the corners and no outs, freshman designated player DeNae Chatman smacked a three-run home run to left for the early lead. Jade Gortarez drove home Marisa Stankiewicz to make it 4-0, and a fifth run scored on a sacrifice fly to right.

Gortarez then delivered an RBI single with no outs in the bottom of the third, and an error on the same play scored two more runs and landed her on third base. Taylor Becerra, who was 2-for-3 on the day scored Maddi Hackbarth for the ninth run.

Coach Ford inserted Breanna Macha at the mound to rest starter Giselle “G” Juarez to begin the fourth. Each pitcher had three strikeouts, and Juarez was credited with the win to improve to 24-4.

Juarez credited with the win, improving her record to 24-4.
“At the beginning of the season, I said our goal was to win a national championship,” the senior Macha said. “This really builds our confidence, and we’re ready to go. Coach says that preparation leads to success, and we had a big week of preparation this week.”

The Rebels season ends at 32-25, a year in which it finished in 12th place in a deep SEC that sent every team to the NCAA Tournament. Brittany Finney started with three strikeouts, and Kaitlin Lee was credited with the loss (18-14).

“We lost to a really good ball club,” Ole Miss coach Mike Smith said. “You’re probably going to see them in Oklahoma City, and I say that knowing they’re going to be playing South Carolina, an SEC school. It’s going to be a great series. Whoever comes out of this region is going to be battle tested to compete for a national championship.”

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Sun Devils advance to final round of NCAA Softball Tempe Regional

By Scott Mammoser

Marisa Stankiewicz hits home run to right field in top of 5th
TEMPE, Ariz. – Despite being designated the road team, Arizona State reversed the result of last year’s NCAA Softball Championship Regional, shutting down Ole Miss, 7-1, on Saturday. Through two wins, ASU has only allowed one run score and will play for the right to host the Super Regional at 6 p.m. on Sunday.

The Rebels beat the Sun Devils 2-0 at Oxford, Miss., in the opening game of the second day last year. 

North Carolina would later defeat ASU, and Ole Miss would top the Tar Heels to advance to the Super Regional for the first time in program history.

“I’m very proud of our effort today, every inning,” ASU coach Trisha Ford said. “We just did a tremendous job coming out. We just executed our game, that’s our game. We have to get every run we can possibly get because this is tough.”

Morgan Howe led off the second with a double, and after a wild pitch, scored on a Jade Gortarez ground out. The eighth-seeded Sun Devils (45-11) made it 2-0 in the top of the third, after Howe singled home Taylor Becerra with two outs. The play was overturned, as originally, Becerra was called out at home, and the Ole Miss players left the field. The Rebels (31-24) managed to escape the rest of the inning, after allowing the bases to be loaded.

Hackbarth's home run clears centerfield fence
The momentum spread to the fourth, as Kindra Hackbarth smacked a three-run home run over the centerfield fence to make it 5-0. The Rebels made a change at the mound, inserting freshman Ava Tillmann, who retired the rest of the side.

With one out in the top of the fifth, Marisa Stankiewicz increased the lead to six with a solo shot to right. Becerra scored Hackbarth for an insurance run in the top of the sixth.

“Being in our hometown, being in the dry heat, and having the crowd behind us, it means a lot,” the senior Stankiewicz added.

Abbey Latham, who hit two home runs against Long Beach State on Friday, sent a solo shot to left with no outs to open the bottom of the seventh to put the Rebels on the board. The freshman designated player has three of her seven homers on the year in this Tempe Regional. It also brought back flashes of ASU’s 2-0 win over New Mexico State on Friday night, as the Sun Devils entered the final inning with a no-hitter before loading the bases.

“The first thing today, I felt like we weren’t as focused as we needed to be,” Latham said. “But, it’s my role as a DP to just hit, so I’m not on the field to make any defensive plays, I just hit.”
Sr. Breanna Macha finished with 9 strike outs 

Breanna Macha finished with nine strikeouts and three hits allowed for ASU, and Coach Ford mentioned how she regularly speaks to the senior about her goals.

“I had a great week of preparation, and it goes to show,” Macha said. “It was our goal this year to get to Super Regionals, and I think this shows all of the work we put in.”

ASU and Juarez survive late scare from New Mexico State on first day of Tempe Regional

By Scott Mammoser

TEMPE, Ariz. – It had been four years – an entire senior class ago – since Arizona State last hosted an NCAA Softball Championship Regional. In response, Giselle Juarez pitched 10 strikeouts and the eighth-seeded Sun Devils shut down New Mexico State, 2-0, on Friday night.

Pac-12 Coach of the Year Trisha Ford leading team to victory
Morgan Howe drove in two runners in the top of the first, before being thrown out at third base, as the Sun Devils took the early lead. That would be all they needed from the offense, but after six hit-less innings from Juarez, ASU survived a scare in the seventh. Two-time WAC Player of the Year Kelsey Horton, hitting over .400, sent the first pitch of the top of the seventh to deep left for a single.

“It took us some time before we figured her out,” Horton said of Juarez. “Unfortunately, it had to be the last inning, but we were on her.”

First baseman Fahren Glackin followed Horton with a single to center that could have been extra bases if not for the defensive efforts of ASU right fielder Kindra Hackbarth, knocking down the ball with her mitt. A walk loaded the bases with one out. Then, pinch hitter Shelby Shultes hit a line drive

to third, where Taylor Becerra picked off the lead runner to end the game.

“The first game is always hard,” said ASU coach Trisha Ford, who was recently named Pac-12 Coach of the Year. “We do a really good job of when we put up runs, ‘G’ (Juarez) closes it out. The pitching coach would like to have more runs, but we are who we are, and I think we do a good job of complementing them.”

The Sun Devils (44-11) and Aggies (29-22) met at two different times this regular season, with ASU winning 3-0 and 5-1.

“It was nerve racking and took me back to the beginning of the season,” the freshman Howe said. “I had butterflies, but they were the good ones.”

In the opening game on Friday, freshman designated player Abbey Latham smacked two home runs to lead Ole Miss over Long Beach State 9-1. Latham, batting merely .224, hit only four home runs on the season until now.  She led off the sixth with a solo shot to left, then found herself on deck with one out in the seventh and delivered a two-run homer, as the Rebels scored five in the final inning.

The Sun Devils and Rebels (31-23) will meet in the winner’s bracket at 2 p.m. on Saturday, with New Mexico State and Long Beach State (42-13) following them. The loser of the first game and the victor of the second will play one more elimination game on Saturday night for the right to face the early winner on Sunday night at 6 p.m.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Sun Devils mercy rule Stanford on eve of Senior Day

By Scott Mammoser

TEMPE, Ariz. – The No. 8-ranked Arizona State softball team breezed past Stanford, 8-0, in five innings on Saturday night, with home runs off the bats of Danielle Gibson and Kindra Hackbarth. It was the sixth-consecutive win for ASU (41-9, 14-6 Pacific-12), while Stanford fell to 23-28 and 2-18.
“We came into that box and did some damage,” ASU coach Trisha Ford said. “Sometimes we rush things. This game is made to be played fast, but it can’t be played quickly. You have to understand the rhythm and make sure you are playing that same rhythm.”
Coach Ford laughed that she was much more pleased with Saturday’s victory than Friday’s 4-3 seventh-inning comeback win that had six errors.  
The Sun Devils scored their first six runs with two outs over the first two innings. In the bottom of the first, a Morgan Howe double scored Taylor Becerra, and Jade Gortarez produced a two-run triple. To begin the second, Stanford put its first two runners on base, and they would ultimately be thrown out at home. ASU left fielder Skylar McCarty contradicted the trend by beating a throw to home with two outs in the bottom of the second. The next pitch ended over the center field fence - a two-run Danielle Gibson home run, her 12th of the year.
ASU's Danielle Gibson scores big at the plate and at first base.
“I had been struggling a little bit at the plate lately,” Gibson said. “I turned on time and stuck to my plan and it felt good. It was a regular inside pitch. I tell myself not to swing at a change up and wait for a hard pitch.”
Kindra Hackbarth added a lead-off solo shot on her first pitch in the bottom of the fourth. Becerra, the junior third baseman, ended up 3-for-3 with three runs, while Gortarez was 2-for-2. Breanna Macha threw four strikeouts and allowed two hits (to Stanford’s Whitney Burks and Molly Fowkes) on the mound. Macha, from Mesa Red Mountain High School, headlines ASU’s senior class this year.
“It’s senior weekend, so we want to come out here and have fun,” Macha said. “I’ve made great relationships with the girls on the team. These are going to be life-long friends; I always say that, girls who are going to be in my wedding. I couldn’t ask for better teammates.”
Danielle after her walk-off double for the win.
The Sun Devils’ final regular season home game is at 1 p.m. on Sunday against the Cardinal, before they travel to No. 1 UCLA for three games May 10-12. ASU is comfortably in position to host a regional the following week.
“To see what they’ve done for this program, it speaks high volume for what kind of kids they are, not players, but people,” Ford said. “Macha is somebody who I would go into battle with her day in and day out. I want them to play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. At the end of the day, they are the ones who are responsible for us being in this situation.”

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Wildcats even softball series with Sun Devils

By Scott Mammoser

TEMPE, Ariz. - Alyssa Denham pitched a two hitter to pave the way for the No. 13-ranked Arizona Wildcats to win at No. 8 Arizona State, 4-1, on Saturday. After ASU won, 2-1, Friday on a walk off double, the weekend rivalry series is 1-1 with the ultimate game coming at 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Alyssa Denham pitches a two hitter in win over Devils 
“Offensively in the box, we couldn’t cut it at all,” ASU coach Trisha Ford said. “We took some things for granted. Our plate discipline today was not good. We have to be better. 

There’s not always going to be a next at-bat, and it shouldn’t take us three innings to go through our lineup. They had better come out with some more tenacity tomorrow or it’s going to be an interesting game.”

Ford praised senior pitcher Breanna Macha, who had four strikeouts, saying she did her part, but the offense needed to support her.

“The mentality we have is to keep grinding,” said Macha, who is 10-5. “Hits are coming to come and go, so it’s about being consistent. We have been down three runs before, so sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Aleah Craighton scores first run of game 
Arizona left fielder Carli Campbell, who was 2-for-3 on the day, drove home Aleah Craighton with no outs in the top of the fourth to open the scoring. Second baseman Reyna Carranco added a two-run double to make it 3-0, and at the end of the inning, the Wildcats held an 8-0 advantage in hits. Campbell drove home Craighton again in the top of the fifth for the fourth Arizona run, with a throwing error to first. Denham (7-3) struck out two Sun Devils and has a 2.18 ERA.

The highlight for ASU was Morgan Howe’s home run to lead off the bottom of the fourth. It was the sixth of the year for the junior center fielder.

Morgan Howe's home run in the 4th inning
“Building off my previous at-bat, I just wanted to see a pitch to hit,” Howe said. “It went up differently. We just need to be better from the get go, we can’t be waiting for our third at-bats to figure things out and make adjustments. Coach usually says, ‘The team that makes adjustments first, comes out on top,’ and it was them today.”

Arizona improved to 30-13 and 7-10 in the Pacific-12 Conference, while the Sun Devils now stand at 35-8 and 9-5.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Gibson’s walk-off double gives Sun Devils series-opening win over Wildcats

By Scott Mammoser
April 20, 2018

TEMPE, Ariz.- Rivalry week has officially begun for college softball in the state of Arizona.
Freshman first baseman Danielle Gibson smacked a walk off double to center to drive home Morgan Howe, and the No. 8-ranked Arizona State softball team won the series opener with the No. 13 Arizona Wildcats, 2-1, on Friday. The series continues at 2 p.m. on Saturday and at 5 p.m. on Sunday from Farrington Stadium.
Devils win game one in a walk off double 

“I’m grateful I had the opportunity, and it was a great team win on our part,” Gibson said. “I’m really good at pressure situations. We already got this one under our belt, so whether we sweep them or win the series, we played our game, and this gives us confidence.”

Gibson leads the Sun Devils in most offensive categories in her rookie year, including her batting average, which is more than .400. It’s safe to say, she isn’t considered a ‘freshman’ anymore by her coach or opposing pitchers.

“Gibby has been nails all year,” ASU coach Trisha Ford said. “She loves to compete and lives for these moments. To see her joy in those situations, you can see it in her, she has that confidence. She’s something special. She’s a lot of fun to coach.”

The Wildcats got things started early, as Ashleigh Hughes sent a leadoff home run over the fences, her fifth of the year. Arizona would only reach base three more times after that, however, and ASU’s Kindra Hackbarth added a equalizing home run in the bottom of the fourth, the second of her season.

“I got a changeup inside, it was up, and I just went for it,” Hackbarth said. “That one I felt right off the bat. We stayed focused, that’s all we did, and we ran down the ball. It’s big knowing anyone in the lineup can hit.”

Juarez gets her 227th strike out of the season.
Sun Devil pitcher Giselle Juarez threw 13 strikeouts for her 19th win of the season, as opposed to just two losses, while the Wildcats’ Taylor McQuillin tossed 10 in the loss (19-9), while only allowing two hits.

“All of our defensive players are fantastic,” Juarez said. “They get me to calm down more, and I can throw my game instead of any other way. It’s nice to be in our own atmosphere and know they’re (fans) rooting for us.”

With the win, the Sun Devils improved to 35-7 and 9-4 in the Pacific-12 Conference, and the Wildcats fell to 29-13 and 6-10.