TEMPE — Maddi Hackbarth laced a sharp grounder into the left field corner, sending Jazmine Hill off to the races as the Farrington Stadium crowd came to life.
The ASU sophomore ignored a stop sign as she rounded third base but Bella Dayton’s throw from the outfield lost too much steam as it rolled toward home plate. Hill beat it easily, sliding in safely to complete a 4-3 walk-off win over the Wildcats on Sunday.
As the Sun Devils exploded in celebration, Arizona catcher Dejah Mulipola raised her arms in confusion.
“I don’t know what happened on that last play,” UA head coach Mike Candrea said. “That ball goes to the fence, then (shortstop Jessie) Harper should be cutting that [throw] off. It should go right to Harper and it’s an automatic cut. I don’t know whether she was waiting for Malia (Martinez) to say something, but it definitely was not the way it’s scripted.”
Neither was the series.
The Sun Devils won all three Pac-12 games against Arizona for the first time since 2011, feasting on a Wildcat team that fell short in every facet of the game. Hitting, pitching, defense, you name it.
In the three Pac-12 games of the four-game series, they hit 2 for 26 with runners in scoring position and surrendered eight home runs, giving credence to the idea that ASU, not Arizona, is the real Home Run U.
Arizona’s struggles prompted Candrea to speak to his players on the outfield grass for 30 minutes after Sunday’s loss. Then Mulipola led a seniors-only meeting for another 15.
“Getting swept by ASU is kind of a big deal, so we just had a senior talk because this is the culture that we’re leaving behind,” Mulipola said. “We just wanted to make sure we’re all on the same page as far as what we want out of the team. ... We know what we have and we’re confident in it. It’s just things didn’t work out for us this weekend.”
Candrea was concerned about Arizona’s pitching on Saturday but came away from Sunday’s game dismayed by the offense. The Wildcats mustered one hit in 11 at-bats with runners in scoring position. That was a game-tying RBI double by Mulipola in the seventh that forced an extra inning.
Down to her final strike and the crowd on its feet, Mulipola ripped a 3-2 liner down the right-field line to plate Reyna Carranco, who had just reached with a clutch two-out, two-hit single of her own.
But Lindsay Lopez struck out the next batter, Harper, looking with a changeup to end the inning as the Wildcats let another opportunity go to waste.
They stranded at least one runner in scoring position in the second, third, fourth and fifth and seventh innings. Oftentimes, it was the meat of the order that couldn’t come through. Harper, the cleanup hitter, and Sharlize Palacios, the No. 5 hitter, went a combined 0 for 7 on Sunday.
“I just expect more out of the middle of our lineup,” Candrea said. “And I know that they’re not going to do it all the time, but I think the big thing right now is just having competitive at-bats, that I know that they’re seeing the ball and that they’re swinging at good pitches. We chased a lot of pitches this weekend and it came back to haunt us.”
That’s been the tale of the tape for the Wildcats against quality pitching this season. They are now 2-8 against ranked teams.
Candrea couldn’t put his finger on the problem—“I wish I knew, I would have fixed it a long time ago,” he said—but added that “sometimes you get a little bit careless with the home run.”
“In practice you like to sit there and swing at every pitch that they throw and it’s one speed,” he said. “It’s completely different than the game and if you’re not putting yourself in game mode and sitting and looking at good pitches, then you start developing some bad habits. You think you can hit everything. Well, in BP you can hit this pitch because it doesn’t move. But in the game, it’s a rise ball that’s out of the zone. And then the offspeed pitch. I thought they did a really good job of throwing some offspeed pitches in some hitter’s counts and definitely kept our big hitters off balance. It was a tough weekend.”
Not to mention one of Arizona’s big hitters, star center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, was lost to a serious knee injury in Friday’s series opener.
If there is any silver lining in Sunday’s loss, it’s that Hanah Bowen threw eight quality innings after Alyssa Denham held the Sun Devils to one run the night before (albeit that was the non-conference game of the series).
Unfortunately, ASU first baseman DeNae Chatman had Bowen’s number. She homered twice off the UA right-hander to plate ASU’s first three runs. One was a solo shot in the fourth that came a half-inning after Malia Martinez hit a two-run bomb to tie it.
It was a microcosm of the series. ASU always had an answer.
“We didn’t play well, but we were in games, and the positive side of it is I thought today we battled back,” Candrea said. “They had the broom out, ready for the sweep, and then...we score two runs and tie it up. And I thought Bo did a great job in a circle, but we had a lot of mistakes.”
Getting swept means Arizona (27-8, 6-5) might be a long shot to host Super Regionals now. Usually the top eight teams in the country host, but UA entered the week ranked eighth and undoubtedly will fall behind No. 13 ASU, among other teams, when the new polls are released this week.
There isn’t much time to strengthen their résumé, either. The postseason host sites are usually determined at the end of the season, but because of the coronavirus pandemic will be announced next Monday instead.
All that’s left on Arizona’s schedule before then is a home series against last-place Utah.
“I say all the time every weekend is a test,” Candrea said. “We flunked the test this weekend and we’ll need to get ourselves prepared for what’s ahead.”
Arizona catcher Dejah Mulipola led a seniors-only meeting after Sunday’s loss to the Sun Devils because “getting swept by ASU is a big deal.”Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Sunday, April 18, 2021
ZERO. PITY. FOR. THE. KITTY.— Sun Devil Softball (@ASUSoftball) April 18, 2021
MADDI HACKBARTH WALKOFF AT CLUB FARRINGTON pic.twitter.com/8yKXpkDJmb