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Juniors lead Arizona softball past ASU in dominant opening game of Pac-12 Tournament

Arizona softball pitcher Devyn Netz (34) and her fellow juniors led the Wildcats to a dominant win over rival ASU in the opening game of the 2023 Pac-12 Tournament at Hillenbrand Stadium on May 10, 2023.
Photo by Troy Hutchison

Arizona softball doesn’t have an experienced team. This season, many of the biggest contributors were freshmen. In the opening game of the inaugural Pac-12 Softball Tournament, it was the upperclassmen who dominated in a 13-4 run rule victory in five innings over rival Arizona State.

The offensive effort was led by first baseman Carlie Scupin and second baseman Allie Skaggs.

Scupin went three for four at the plate with two doubles. She knocked in five runs, tying her career high in RBIs.

“I’m seeing the ball pretty well, I think,” Scupin said. “After my first at-bat, I really had to take a step back and take a breather and gather myself, but I was really just looking for anything to barrel up.”

Scupin now has four extra-base hits in her last four games. She returned to action on Apr. 28 after six weeks off with a broken arm. She has picked up power after hitting mostly singles and getting walked in her first few games back.

“She’s stronger,” said Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe. “That’s it. I think her grip strength...when she took the cast off wasn’t there, and she was getting frustrated at batting practice. Every single day she gets stronger...I think she felt really good when she hit her home run last weekend, just knowing that it was there and that she can make that happen.”

Skaggs put the exclamation point on the win, hitting a two-out grand slam in the bottom of the fifth to walk ASU off by the run rule. She was two for three with four RBIs. The RBIs put her at 63 for the season. She entered the game leading the Pac-12 with 59. She also drew a walk, increasing her conference lead with the 37th walk of the season.

Netz led the way from the circle. She threw five innings, allowing four earned runs on six hits. She walked one and struck out eight.

Slow starts have plagued Arizona softball for much of the season. Why should the Pac-12 Tournament be any different? The Wildcats fell into an early hole against their rivals, but it didn’t matter. As they have many times this year, the Wildcats fought back after falling behind.

“They’re fighters, man, they’re just fighters,” Lowe said. “And I think you’ve seen them get stronger and stronger throughout the year, and just not care about deficits. And it’s kind of college softball these days, anyway, just chipping away and going to work. Their goal was one an inning, and they were able to put some bigger numbers on the board. But when they come out like that on fire, they just spread the energy one through nine, and they didn’t have any doubt that they were going to do it

Netz walked the first batter of the game then hit the second. It looked like she had settled down when she struck out the next two, especially since one of them was Pac-12 home run leader Jordyn VanHook, who came in with 19 home runs this season. Arizona pitchers have been haunted by two-out rallies, though.

With two outs, ASU got a single from designated player Alexa Milius to load the bases. Next up was Jazmine Hill, who came in hitting .215 with six home runs. Her seventh of the season was a grand slam to put the Sun Devils up 4-0.

Netz came back with a third strikeout in the opening inning, but the Wildcats were already facing a significant deficit.

“As a pitcher, you just have to think that it’s one bad pitch, not that it’s four runs scored on the board,” Netz said. “It’s that one bad pitch, and it’s the first inning and you have a lot of time to use your offense and kind of let them get back in the game.”

It took Arizona a little while, but it finally found its bats. After Netz came back with a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the second, the Wildcats responded on offense in the bottom of the inning.

Skaggs started it with a single up the middle. Walks to Blaise Biringer and Izzy Pacho followed, loading the bases with no outs. That’s when the freshmen stepped in.

Freshman shortstop Logan Cole got the Wildcats on the board with a one-out groundout that scored Skaggs. Fellow freshman Dakota Kennedy loaded the bases again by drawing the third walk of the inning from ASU pitcher Kylee Magee.

Scupin’s double to the left-center gap drove in all three runners. The game was tied, and Arizona had new life.

Netz kept the Sun Devils off the scoreboard for the rest of the game. She got a little help from her defense.

In the top of the fourth, ASU put two on with two outs. Yanni Acuña hit a single into right field. Savannah Price attempted to score from second base, but right fielder Tayler Biehl was waiting for her. Biehl launched the ball home where Pacho applied the tag. ASU challenged the call, but it was upheld and Arizona was out of the inning with the game still tied at 4-4.

“Every day we see it,” Skaggs said about Biehl’s play. “She fields like an infielder and has a rocket arm, so we get to see it every day. As soon as it was hit to her, I was like there’s no shot that anyone makes it off of her.”

The defense fed into the offense. The Wildcats added one run in the bottom of the fourth on the second straight RBI double by Scupin, but the real damage came in the fifth.

Skaggs both started and ended the inning. Her first plate appearance was a walk.

The Wildcats scored on a one-out RBI single by Kaiah Altmeyer to go up 6-4. Cole followed her with a fielder’s choice that had Arizona make its second out of the inning at home. Both times the runner at third went on contact and the ball was waiting for her long before she got home.

Two outs didn’t intimidate the Wildcats. They put together their own two-out rally.

With two runners on, Scupin hit an RBI single to give Arizona the 7-4 lead. They were still a long way from the run rule, but the bases were loaded.

Two straight hit batters forced in runs. The Wildcats were now up 9-4 with two outs in the fifth.

It was time for Skaggs to step into the box for the second time of the inning. She fell behind 0-2, then hit the third pitch the opposite way over the fence to end the scoring in the same way it started—with a grand slam. This time, it was in the Wildcats’ favor.

“I went down in the count and usually when I do, I don’t like to change my swing,” Skaggs said. “I’m not the type that just tries to put it in play. I still want to take the same swing at 0-2 that I would 0-0. So, anything near the plate, I was swinging at it. And I also knew we were up by what five at the time and bases loaded. We have nothing to lose if I take a hack. So that’s what I was looking to do. I said, ‘hey, if I put it in the gap right now, we might be able to win,’ and then that obviously happened.”

Arizona will now face historic rival UCLA in game four of the 2023 Pac-12 Softball Tournament. The game starts at 4 p.m. MST on Thursday, May 11.

“We really want it,” Netz said. “I mean, it’s something that we kind of want to get back. You know, take back our house in a way.”