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Arizona State mercy rules Dartmouth in its opening game of Tempe Regional

Nikki Girard, with Dartmouth third baseman Kelsey Miller, hit her fourth home run of the year Friday.
Nikki Girard, with Dartmouth third baseman Kelsey Miller, hit her fourth home run of the year Friday.
Scott Mammoser

Nikki Girard put away Dartmouth with a two-run walk off home run in the fifth to give Arizona State an 8-0 victory in its opening game of the NCAA Softball Tempe Regional Friday.

“My plan was to go get her early, see a good pitch, and just drive it,” Girard said.

The win sends the Sun Devils (45-10-1) to a meeting with Michigan (43-12) at 3 p.m. Saturday and the Big Green (31-18) to the first elimination game with San Diego State (39-18), which lost to the Wolverines, 8-7 in nine innings earlier Friday.

The Aztecs and Big Green play the second game Saturday at Farrington Stadium, and the winner of that contest plays off with the loser of the first for the right to play the winner of the first on Sunday with a trip to the Super Regional on the line.

“We got off to a slow start,” ASU coach Craig Nicholson said. “Dallas (Escobedo) did a great job keeping them of the board, our second time through the lineup we started making some adjustments, and our third time we really did a good job of our adjustments and scoring.”

Escobedo (23-7) struck out her first four opponents and ended with eight strikeouts on the day and 85 pitches, with one hit (to Megan Averitt) and two walks.

“Being able to stay in the mentality, I’ve been here before, so just do it,” Escobedo said of her pitching Friday.

On her first swing, Chelsea Gonzales put ASU on the board with a two-run home run to center in the bottom of the second, her sixth of the season.

Dartmouth retired six straight Sun Devils before the acclaimed offense got hot in the fifth. Senior Alix Johnson doubled with a hit off the second baseman’s mitt, and Cheyenne Coyle advanced her to third with a ground out. Haley Steele contributed an infield double, while Johnson made the play of the game at home, winning a run out with the catcher and the third baseman.

“She did a great job standing the run out,” Nicholson said of Johnson. “Probably a base-running mistake to start with, but then she just stayed in the run out, letting the other two runners move up a base, then she found her speed and found home plate, so a great job by her.”

Elizabeth Caporuscio blooped one over second baseman Kara Curosh’s head to score pinch runner Abby Spiel, Bethany Kemp singled in Steele, and Gonzales scored pinch runner Allie Butterfield for the fourth through sixth runs before Girard’s walk off ended the match with the mercy rule.

Ivy League pitcher of the year Kristen Rumley (18-8) took the loss with one strikeout, as Dartmouth was making its NCAA Softball Tournament debut against a group of seniors that is 152-17 at home in four years and won the 2011 national title.

Next, ASU faces a Michigan team that eliminated it in the WCWS last season, but defeated earlier this year.

“It’s another game, we’re going to focus on us, we’re just going to play ASU softball,” Girard said.

The Aztecs scored three in the top of the seventh and pitched around the nation’s leading hitter Sierra Romero (.510), who was 0-for-2 with three walks, before starting pitcher Haylie Wagner (22-3) drove home Lindsay Montemarano with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth. Leftfielder Sierra Lawrence was 2-for-5 with 3 RBIs and a home run for the Wolverines, and Danielle O’Toole (30-9) threw six strikeouts for the Aztecs.

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