Dallas Escobedo proved she's human Saturday. Fortunately for her, Arizona State proved it can win without a star performance from its ace.
Escobedo allowed four runs - her first earned runs since May 9 against Oregon, a span of 31 innings entering Saturday - but No. 5 ASU (49-10) provided just enough support to sneak away with a 5-4 victory over No. 12 Kentucky in the first game of the Tempe Super Regional at Farrington Stadium.
The two teams will play again today at 2 p.m. If Kentucky (41-20) wins, a winner-take-all game will be played at 5 p.m. for the right to advance to the Women's College World Series.
"We said it was going to be an exciting softball game, and it was," ASU coach Clint Myers said Saturday. "She wasn't as sharp as she has been, but ... Dallas still pitched a very good ballgame - good enough to get the win."
Escobedo (29-4) allowed just two baserunners through her first four innings. Although the junior right-hander allowed a home run in the fifth and three more in the sixth, ASU never lost the lead it took with three runs in the third and added to with two in the fifth.
Escobedo admitted she didn't feel as strong in the circle after a poor bullpen session prior to the game.
"Just an off day. We all have them," she said. "I guess it's a shock since I've been doing so well, but tomorrow's another day. Just sleep it off."
Junior shortstop Cheyenne Coyle provided the early offense for ASU, launching a three-run home run in the bottom of the third after a nine-pitch battle with Kentucky starter Kelsey Nunley (27-10). The homer was Coyle's 20th of the season, tying her with Kaitlin Cochran (2009) for the program's single-season record.
The Sun Devils jumped on Nunley early in the fifth inning. Junior right fielder Bailey Wigness led off with a walk and was tripled home by junior center fielder Alix Johnson, who scored one batter later on Coyle's sacrifice fly.
Coyle had four RBIs in the game and Johnson went 3 for 3 with two runs scored.
With two lefty hitters coming up to lead off the top of the seventh, Myers turned to junior pitcher Mackenzie Popescue to replace Escobedo and preserve the 5-4 lead. Popescue, who matches up well with lefties, allowed a two-out walk but retired the other three hitters she faced to record her third save.
With Escobedo needing no relief throughout the regional, Popescue was making her first postseason appearance. But she said she had no jitters in the circle.