National champions: Arizona State defeats Florida 7-2
In pitching Arizona State to a national championship in softball, Dallas Escobedo did something few freshman have ever accomplished – and none had done for more than two decades.
And it only happened with the perfect mix of her accelerated maturity and a group of holdovers who'd won a title with the Sun Devils three years ago when they were merely freshmen.
Katelyn Boyd and freshman Alix Johnson each drove in three runs to back Escobedo's four-hitter, and Arizona State beat Florida 7-2 Tuesday night to win its second NCAA title in four years.
"I feel lucky, I guess," Escobedo said. "It's just a whole bunch of emotions right now."
Escobedo (37-3) won her 19th consecutive decision, in the process becoming the first freshman pitcher to win the title-clinching game since UCLA's Heather Compton in 1990.
"There's a reason why it takes 20 years or 30 years for a freshman to lead a club to a national championship, because it's such a rarity," coach Clint Myers said. "It just doesn't happen. Only a unique, special type person can have that."
Escobedo had regular reminders of the Sun Devils' championship past on either side of her – with Mandy Urfer at first base and Krista Donnenwirth at third providing constant encouragement and advice along the way.
"They've won a national championship and so they know how it feels to be here," Escobedo said. "Just listening to what they had to say and following and trusting in them made me like how I am today."
She also got solid defense as a constant, with Arizona State becoming just the third team to win the title without committing an error at the World Series.
It continued a run of six consecutive championships for the Pac-10, which has won 23 of the 29 titles all time. The Pac 10 also celebrated the title as its 400th national championship in any sport – more than any other league.
"We're fortunate to play in a great conference. ... Every single weekend it's a playoff and it gets you ready for regionals and super regionals," Myers said.
Arizona State joined UCLA, Arizona and Texas A&M as the only teams to win multiple softball titles. UCLA with 12 – including one that was vacated for NCAA rules violations - and Arizona with eight are the only programs to win more than two.
"I'll tell you what. It's so hard to win one. To have the opportunity to win two, that's just plain special," Myers said in a postgame interview that included a pie in the face. "You get into an elite group.
"We're not UCLA or (Arizona) yet. But give us time."
Arizona State won 23 of its last 24 games and had a perfect 10-game run through the NCAA tournament.
"Sometimes you lose games and you're, 'Gosh, I wish we would have done this. I wish we would have done that,'" Gators coach Tim Walton said. "But ultimately that was the better team that won today."
Florida (56-13) was swept in the best-of-three World Series finals for the second time in three years. No Southeastern Conference team has ever won the title.
"This program's going to do big things," senior pitcher Stephanie Brombacher said. "We've been here twice now and next time we're going to get it."
The Gators – the top home run hitting team in the country and the second-highest scoring – failed to score at least four runs for the first time in seven World Series games.
Escobedo struck out Kelsey Bruder to finish it, and the Sun Devils launched their gloves in the air while mobbing together to celebrate on the infield. Escobedo and Florida's Michelle Moultrie shared Most Outstanding Player honors.
"She is not a freshman anymore. She is a seasoned veteran and there are no surprises," Myers said. "From this point on, she is just going to grow with leaps and bounds as far as how good she can be. You saw a poised pitcher out there tonight."
The Gators got their chance to face Arizona State without Chris Drumm as the home plate umpire - as she had been when the teams met Friday night and again in Game 1 on Monday night. Drumm was the subject of harsh criticism from Florida's players for a botched call on a first-inning hit by pitch and what they suggested were "inconsistent calls" throughout the game.
But Game 2 wasn't all that much different than the 14-4 blowout a night earlier.
Florida switched back from freshman pitcher Hannah Rogers to Brombacher in the circle, and got out to a 1-0 lead when Moultrie doubled and scored on Brittany Schutte's sacrifice fly in the first.
Arizona State quickly answered in the second.
Brombacher (20-3) forced in a run by walking Johnson, and Boyd added a two-run single to right field to put the Sun Devils ahead to stay. Johnson blooped in a two-run single to right in the third, and Boyd tacked on an RBI single to right in the fifth.