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Freeman, Escobedo lead ASU over UCLA, end Bruins' Pac-12 title hopes

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Amber Freeman smacked a two-run homer in the bottom of the first and Dallas Escobedo threw seven strikeouts and six hitless innings, as the No. 3 Arizona State softball team (44-8-1, 15-5-1 Pacific-12) defeated No. 2 UCLA, 2-0, Thursday night in Tempe.

It was the first time the Bruins (46-6, 17-5) have been shutout this season, as the loss gave top-ranked Oregon its second-consecutive Pacific-12 conference title. The Ducks (48-6-1, 19-2-1) won at No. 8 Arizona (40-12, 13-9) Thursday, 7-3, giving the Wildcats their first home loss of the season, despite two Chelsea Goodacre home runs.

Escobedo, meanwhile, led the Sun Devils to their 11th win over UCLA in their last 13 and improved to 22-6 with a 1.63 ERA, defeating fellow national player of the year candidate Ally Carda (27-4, 1.73, nine strikeouts) and holding her to 0-for-4 from the plate where she hits .391.

“Coming out with a shutout I was happy,” Escobedo said. “I think we (Carda) both throw very hard, she struck out a lot of our girls. I think we are similar, she has a very good change, and she kept our batters on our toes.”

After Cheyenne Coyle singled a grounder up the middle in the first, Freeman hit her 11th of the season to force a three-way tie for the team lead with Coyle, Haley Steele and Bethany Kemp.

“Carda is someone I caught on the junior U.S. team, so I’m comfortable against her,” Freeman said. “I couldn’t even tell you what the pitch was, I felt like it slowed down for me and I hit it. This is a big series going into postseason; this is a very important series for us.”

The Bruins left two on in the top of the second, with an error applied as Brittany Moeai’s grounder to first went past Kemp. Escobedo struck out Felix to end the inning with runners on second and third. UCLA would also leave two stranded in the fourth.

Coyle and Freeman would threaten the scoreboard again in the bottom of the fifth. First, Coyle took a full count walk with two outs, and Freeman singled to left, but Steele popped out on a full count to leave them on base. ASU loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth, but could not find home plate.

Gracie Goulder would spoil Escobedo’s no-hit attempt with one out in the top of the seventh with a single to center. The junior from Scottsdale’s Cactus Shadow High School was inserted as a pinch hitter after starting in the field at second base but not in the batting order. Next, pitcher Jessica Hall entered as a pinch hitter and singled to left to place runners on first and second. Allexis Bennett, batting .462, popped out on an 0-2 count for the second out, and Carda repeated the same play to the mitt of Elizabeth Caporuscio to conclude the game.

“It wasn’t like they were hitting line drives off the wall or anything like that,” ASU coach Craig Nicholson said of keeping Escobedo composed in the final at bats.

“We did a great job of making adjustments, hopefully, it will carry over. A lot of these guys have seen Carda before. I thought we tried to do too much early in the game, trying to hit the ball over the fence instead of trying to be in control.”

The Sun Devils and Bruins meet again at 5:30 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Saturday from Farrington Stadium.

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