Jennifer Soria blasted a three-run walk-off home run with two outs to complete an eight-run deficit and give No. 23 Arizona State an 11-10 regular-season ending win over No. 6 UCLA Saturday in Tempe. Looking well on its way to a blowout after taking a 9-1 lead after two innings, the Bruins’ loss secured the Pacific-12 title for No. 1-ranked Oregon, which was to play at No. 17 Arizona later Saturday night. The NCAA Selection Show will take place at 7 p.m. PT Sunday on ESPNU, as ASU (34-20, 12-11 Pacific-12) is a lock for the 64-team field, and UCLA (45-10, 19-5) will certainly be one of the 16 host schools.
“We have so much heart on this team, we just kept fighting and stuck to our plan,” said Soria, who finished with two home runs, going 3-for-4 with four RBIs.
Prior to Saturday, the Sun Devils’ largest comeback this season was three runs.
“The biggest thing is the character of this ball club to just keep competing,” ASU coach Craig Nicholson said. “How easy is to to pull the tab right there. The biggest thing was to continue to compete.”
Stephany LaRosa (3-for-4) began the afternoon with a one-out three-run home run in the top of the first for UCLA, and Amber Freeman drove home Sierra Rodriguez for the first ASU run in the second half of the first. Allexis Bennett (3-for-5) drove home two more Bruins from scoring position with a deep one-out double in the second, and after a walk to LaRosa loaded the bases, Maddy Jelenicki crushed a grand slam to center for the 9-1 lead. Coach Nicholson replaced Dale Ryndak with Alexis Cooper on the mound after the grand slam. LaRosa struck again in the third, loading the bases with a hit to shallow left with two outs, but Jelenicki’s infield pop fly stranded all three.
The Sun Devils opened the third inning with two home runs on three pitches to Soria and Rodriguez, and consecutive hits from Chelsea Gonzales, Bethany Kemp, and Freeman followed. Haley Steele’s sacrifice fly scored Gonzales, a wild pitch brought in Kemp, and Elizabeth Caporuscio drove home pinch runner Marisa Stankiewicz to make it 9-6. The centerfielder Soria robbed Delaney Spaulding of a three-run homer with two outs in the fourth, then led off the ASU portion with a single. A second base error from Rodriguez’s bat put two on with no outs, but Ally Carda retired the next three hitters, ending with strikeouts to Kemp and Freeman.
Caporuscio doubled with two outs in the fifth, and Nikki Girard just cleared the left field foul pole with her fourth home run of the season to bring ASU within 9-8. Then, as it looked as if the pendulum was swinging with the Devils, Gabrielle Maurice led off the sixth with a solo home run to make it 10-8. Soria then lifted a 1-0 pitch over left field for the walk-off win 11-10 in the seventh with two outs.
Cooper (3-1) posted two strikeouts, and Carda (26-6) had four in the loss, which was four innings of relief work to Johanna Grauer.
“My mentality is just to throw strikes,” Cooper said. “When you’re down eight runs, the goal is to get outs, getting a mixture of ground balls and pop ups.”