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Arizona’s pitching patchwork can’t prevent Arizona State’s sweep

The Sun Devils greet outfielder Annie Lockwood after she hit a three-run homer in the fifth inning to give ASU a 6-1 lead.
Photo by Mark Evans, TucsonCitizen.com.

As the Arizona State softball team huddled on the field for its postgame talk, a small group of Sun Devils fans began chanting from beyond the bullpen.

“Sweep! Sweep! Sweep!”

That’s what it was Saturday as Arizona State completed the three-game sweep over Arizona with an 8-3 victory at Hillenbrand Stadium against the strangest set of pitchers Wildcats coach Mike Candrea has ever used in 26 years at the school.

Second-ranked ASU took advantage of pitching-thin Arizona, getting three-run homers from Krista Donnenwirth and Annie Lockwood. Arizona State won the previous two games with the help of grand slams in the seventh inning.

“I tell you what, it was a great series,” said ASU coach Clint Myers. “You had two very good programs playing. … They have a great tradition and we have not been very successful here in the past.”

Which is a just a teeny, tiny understatement.

Before the series, Arizona State had defeated Arizona only once in Hillenbrand, which opened in 1993.

“To come down here and walk away with three wins says a lot about the performance of the girls,” Myers said.

That none of the victories came against Arizona ace Kenzie Fowler didn’t temper ASU’s enthusiasm. With Fowler out because of a concussion, the Sun Devils beat freshman Shelby Babcock in the first two games, forcing Candrea to play mad scientist on Saturday.

Backup second baseman Victoria Kemp, who tore her ACL in the preseason, began the game in the circle. She hadn’t pitched since her freshman year of high school. Backup first baseman Baillie Kirker, who finished Friday’s game, came in for the third inning. All-American outfielder Brittany Lastrapes started the fifth.

“We were just trying to find a way to keep them off balance,” Candrea said.

Donnenwirth’s homer came in the first off Kemp to stake ASU to a 3-0 lead.

“I was really nervous at first,” said Kemp, who found out she was starting when she arrived at the stadium.

“Then I got really jazzed up when we were just starting to warm up. I was telling everybody that I was going to pitch my heart out for you guys. I knew we really didn’t have any other options.”

Arizona hung around, trailing only 3-1 after four innings, before Lockwood’s homer off Lastrapes made it 6-1 in the fifth.

Lastrapes hit a two-run homer off Dallas Escobedo (21-3) in the bottom of the fifth inning, but ASU (42-5 overall, 9-3 Pac-10) extended the lead again with two runs in the sixth. Babcock finished with 1 1/3 scoreless innings.

Escobedo wasn’t as sharp as she was in a one-hit shutout Thursday night, but she went the distance, allowing six hits while striking out seven and walking four.

“It was a tough weekend,” said Candrea, whose team fell to 36-11 and 7-5.

“It’s been (a rivalry) that we have dominated over the years. It’s tough to go into a series like this without your No. 1. We knew we had our backs against the wall. … But it’s a good rivalry and ASU is a good team right now.”

While Candrea was doing his postgame interview, he heard the ASU fans chanting and the Sun Devils players trying — unsuccessfully — to get Myers to do a little celebratory dance.

Asked if this series sweep will linger with him, Candrea said, “I do not like to see the celebrations on our field, so I guess that answers your question.”

But given the unusual pitching circumstances on Saturday, Arizona’s players weren’t necessarily taking the loss as hard as they would if they had been beaten with Fowler in the circle.

“Yeah, we were just going to relax and whatever happened, happened,” Lastrapes said. “If I were them and I didn’t get a hit off me, I would be upset. So, I was like kind of like, if I get someone out, that’s cool.”

Fowler, who has not been at the stadium in the past two games because she was bothered by the noise Thursday night, is still considered day-to-day, Candrea said.

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