UA SOFTBALL

Softball: ASU 7, Arizona 6: Cats lose sweep, but gain confidence for likely NCAA berth

2013-05-06T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T12:09:21Z Softball: ASU 7, Arizona 6: Cats lose sweep, but gain confidence for likely NCAA berthPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 06, 2013 12:00 am  • 

They were two outs from making a good weekend remarkable.

Instead, the Arizona Wildcats watched as their rival scored four runs with one out in the top of the seventh Sunday at Hillenbrand Stadium, pulling out a 7-6 Arizona State victory in front of 2,549 softball fans hungry for a sweep.

ASU's seventh-inning outburst tarnished Senior Day heroics for Brigette Del Ponte, the Wildcats' lone graduating player, who posted her best offensive day of the year by going 3 for 4.

Del Ponte's two-run homer in the third inning was her first in conference play this year, and first against anyone since April 9 at New Mexico State.

Add that to a seeing-eye double in the first inning that drove in two, and Del Ponte posted one more RBI on Sunday (four) than she had in all her previous conference games combined this year.

"I haven't hit a home run in a long time," she said, "so it was meant to be."

Del Ponte had seven hits in league play entering the Wildcats' final home series of the season - and had five over the three days against the Sun Devils (43-9, 14-7 Pac-12).

"I need to start hitting," said Del Ponte, who was honored with a framed jersey in a postgame ceremony on the field. "It shows what happens when I hit the ball.

"Hopefully I start going here."

Even with Sunday's crushing ending, the Cats (30-23, 7-14) think they've gained some momentum.

At the least, Arizona likely sealed an NCAA tournament berth when the seeds are announced next Sunday following a three-game season finale at Stanford.

"We've battled our butts off this weekend, and it was awesome," said starting pitcher Shelby Babcock, who allowed seven runs, six earned, on nine hits in 6 1/3 innings.

"Our bats came alive. If we hit like that the rest of the year, we can go far."

UA coach Mike Candrea said "the one thing I think we can draw from this is, a lot of young kids kinda understand where they need to be to play this game."

The ASU series, Candrea said, was probably the one moment during the team's disappointing season that left him content.

"I was pretty pleased," he said, "though I was disheartened we couldn't finish that one.

"It was sitting right there in the palm of our hand."

Babcock entered the seventh with a three-run lead, but she walked leadoff hitter Amber Freeman. Haley Steele then lined a ball to left field that Hallie Wilson dropped, in part because of the setting sun behind home plate. The error put the tying run at the plate with none out.

Babcock struck out Bethany Kemp and allowed a Sam Parlich single to load the bases before Nikki Girard doubled off the left-field wall to pull ASU within one, 6-5.

That chased Babcock, who said her "ball just got up a little bit" at the end, in favor of junior Estela Piñon.

With one out, the reliever gave up a 2-2 single to Elizabeth Caporuscio that bounded over the first baseman's head and scored two, giving ASU a 7-6 lead.

The Wildcats made Mackenzie Popescue - the reliever who replaced ace Dallas Escobedo when the Wildcats scored six, five earned, in the first 2 2/3 innings - work for the final three outs.

Kelsey Rodriguez walked with one out and moved to second when Del Ponte's dying quail to right-center field went off the glove of the second baseman trying to make a Willie Mays catch.

After Mandie Perez grounded out to first, Candrea hit for Courtney Rodriguez with Nancy Bowling, the pitcher with only six at-bats in league play this season.

She worked the count 3-2 before taking a walk, bringing up Alex Lavine.

The No. 9 hitter struck out looking to end the game.

"It woulda been nice to sweep ASU," Del Ponte said. "But we won the series. That's all that really matters. …

"That team is a legit Top 10 team that we beat two out of three times, so that's definitely a big confidence booster."

It could have been better, though.

"It was a good weekend for us," Candrea said. "Not great, but good."

Up next

• Who: Arizona at Stanford

• When: 7 p.m. Thursday

• TV: Pac-12 Network

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4658. On Twitter @PatrickFinley

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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