With just over two weeks before Selection Sunday and both Oregon and Arizona State entering the weekend with identical Pac-12 records, Saturday's doubleheader could go a long way in determining how the Pac-12 shakes out.
Fortunately for the Sun Devils, costly Oregon walks in game one and a stellar combined pitching performance in game two solidified 10-4 and 4-1 victories in Tempe, AZ.
Allison Royalty got the ball for the Sun Devils to mark her second start in as many days. On Friday, the Oregon hitters put the pressure on Royalty early and often, scoring four runs in the first two innings. After the first inning of the first game, it looked like the same story for Royalty.
A single by Haley Cruse and a hit batsman set up first and second for the Ducks. Later in the inning with two outs, Hanna Delgado clutched up sending a three-run home run to right field to give the Ducks another early cushion.
The bottom half for the Sun Devils mirrored the Ducks top half of the inning. With Samaria Diaz on the bump for Oregon, a single and walk by Kindra and Maddi Hackbarth gifted the Sun Devils first and second. With two outs, Yannira Acuña tied the game up with a three-run blast of her own to center.
Makenna Kliethermes took over for Diaz in the third coming off an impressive start on Friday where she went five innings with just one run given up. Today was a different story for her however.
With a runner on first for the Sun Devils, M. Hackbarth sent a booming home run to left field to give ASU the 5-3 advantage. With the home run, M. Hackbarth tied the single season record for a Sun Devil, and grew her Pac-12 lead to 20.
A walk and a single ended Kliethermes day.
Brooke Yanez took over, got the Ducks out of the jam, and kept ASU scoreless until the seventh with seven strikeouts in relief.
After a rocky first inning, Royalty settled in nicely. She threw three scoreless frames, keeping the Duck hitters off balance with a steady diet of offspeed pitches low in the zone.
With the score 5-4 Sun Devils in the seventh, Yanez walked the bases loaded to give ASU a perfect chance to add on. Head coach Melyssa Lombardi turned to Raegan Breedlove in hopes that the freshman could get the Ducks out of the jam, but ASU had different plans.
Jazmine Hill lined a double to center on Breedloves first pitch in relief to score two additional runs. Later, with the bases still loaded, an Alynah Torres groundout and a Makenna Harper single grew the lead to 10-4, the final score.
Walks were the story for the Ducks in the first game, as the eight total walks surrendered by their staff yielded six Sun Devil runs, the difference of the game.
With Royalty in command of the Ducks offense for three quarters of the innings in the first game, it only made sense that head coach Trisha Ford gave her the ball in game two. For Oregon, Jordan Dail got the start with a 2-1 record and 2.92 ERA.
Both pitchers traded scoreless frames until the bottom of the second, when Acuña struck again with a two-run home run to dead center. After a walk to Harper, it was Savannah Price’s turn, as the true freshman added another two-run blast to center to grow the lead to 4-0, ending Dail’s day abruptly.
Royalty’s recipe for game two was the same as game one: keep the ball low in the zone with soft pitches to induce weak contact. Through four perfect innings, that’s exactly what the freshman accomplished with five groundouts and three strikeouts.
With two outs in the fifth, Oregon got their first hit of the game when Gabby Herrera singled to right field. Still, Royalty got the next better Ariel Carlson to ground out to keep the shutout intact.
Coach Ford opted for Cielo Meza out of the bullpen in the sixth to end Royalty’s day in which she went five and a third innings pitched while only surrendering one hit, one walk, and no runs.
Not to be outdone was Diaz for the Ducks, who suffocated the Sun Devil offense after taking over for Dail. In her three and two thirds innings of work, Diaz struck out eight and only gave up three hits, as her electrifying fastball proved to be too much for ASU hitters.
Unfortunately for Diaz, the offense couldn’t reciprocate her efforts. Oregon scratched a run across in the seventh and even put the tying run up to bat, but it was too little, too late as ASU lefty Lindsay Lopez shut the door on the Ducks, solidifying the 4-1 victory.
Thanks to a win on Friday, the Ducks still have a chance to take the series rubber match Sunday with the second game of the doubleheader not counting towards Pac-12 play.