Patience pays off for Sun Devils

June, 4, 2011

OKLAHOMA CITY -- As what could reasonably be described as the 2011 Women's College World Series' first classic game unfolded, it came down to Arizona State's ability to wait.

Patience, opportunism and discipline are not words people often write songs about or affix as mottos on super heroes. Those honors go to action, the glory to the bold. On Friday night, the glory went to Arizona State's Annie Lockwood, the junior cleanup hitter for the Sun Devils who drove home the winning run in a 6-5 victory with a walk-off single, after having tied the score four innings earlier with a momentum-shifting home run.

"Once the count got to 2-2, I knew she was probably going to move the ball around and make me swing at something she wanted me to hit," Lockwood said of the final at-bat against Florida pitcher Hannah Rogers. "But I think the team realized the umpire wasn't calling those outside pitches, and I realized she was probably going to try to go in. My philosophy al year has been staying inside the ball, and I got an inside pitch and I tried my best to stay inside it."

If the first two days of the Women's College World Series showed anything, it's that this remains a good time of year to be the best at something. Alabama pitched better than anyone in winning its first two games. But against a Florida lineup that made a strong case for top offensive honors in both its first game and at times during Friday's game, Arizona State showed both a depth and patience at the plate that will be tough to match this weekend.

It's not that the Sun Devils wow you to quite the same degree as the Gators, who even after retooling their offense after losing their preferred bats during the season, remain capable of waiting out very good pitchers and hitting the ball a very long way. It's just that, with a lineup that is balanced with hitter who aren't going to strike out, the Sun Devils never let up.

Arizona State entered the World Series with just 187 strikeouts in 61 games. One of the nation's best hitting teams under the tutelage of one of its best offensive minds, Florida entered with 330 strikeouts, by way of comparison.

"Our philosophy is 21 tough outs and every at-bat is a quality at-bat," Arizona State coach Clint Myers said after Friday's win. "Quality at-bats don't mean that you're going to be successful. It just means you've got quality at-bats -- and the more quality at-bats you have, the more chance you have of being successful.

"Patience and good swing paths and squaring balls up clearly are part of that quality at-bat."

After replacing an ineffective Stephanie Brombacher in the second inning, Rogers held up well against her freshman counterpart, Arizona State's Dallas Escobedo. The Sun Devils had jumped out to a 4-0 lead, but Rogers kept her team in the game and gave the Gators the opportunity they seized in taking a 5-4 lead in the fourth inning. Yet time and again, the Sun Devils worked deep into counts and gave themselves scoring opportunities, collecting five hits and eight walks while striking out just three times in 5.2 innings against Rogers.

"For me to look down here and see eight walks says a lot," Florida coach Tim Walton said. "I think they obviously did a good job. But [Rogers] throws strikes. That's got to be a season high; she went probably 25 games in a row without giving up eight walks. So that's tough. It's tough to give a team like that that many extra opportunities. But they did a good job working the count. They're tough to strike out for sure."

Quick to give credit to Arizona State's hitters in that respect, Walton also appeared vocal during the game in his displeasure with the strike zone and noted after the game that it's his job to stick up for his pitcher when she feels she's throwing strikes. To his point, Rogers walked five against Auburn on April 16, the only time in 34 outings totaling 242.2 innings prior to Friday night that she walked more than three.

But the relative merits of the strike zone aside, the point is the Sun Devils, as they always do, figured it out quickly and used it to their advantage, as Lockwood noted in talking about her final at-bat.

Don't mistake the Sun Devils for automatons. They like to hit. They just don't force it. In the at-bat between her home run and her walk-off single, Lockwood drew an intentional walk.

"I was bummed on the walk; I was excited to hit again," Lockwood said. "But I was on base, and that's all we really work on is working at-bats. And given, it was kind of handed to me, but that's what we look for is getting base runners on."

Like the rest of her lineup, Lockwood waited her turn. And with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh (after a two-out walk from Kaylyn Castillo), she acted.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.



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