Arizona State one win from NCAA softball title

Updated: June 3, 2008, 1:38 AM ET
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- One by one, Arizona State's freshmen have taken turns providing the hits that can change the school's softball history.

Mandy Urfer and Lesley Rogers had already delivered game-winning hits for the Sun Devils in the Women's College World Series, and it was Krista Donnenwirth's turn Monday night.

Donnenwirth homered and had two RBI singles, and Katie Burkhart threw a two-hitter to lead Arizona State past Texas A&M 3-0 in Game 1 of the best-of-three championship series. Game 2 will be played Tuesday night.

"We're not intimidated by anyone just because we're freshmen. We've heard it all year: 'We're just little freshmen,'" Donnenwirth said. "It's kind of a cool experience but we're just taking it day-by-day like we usually do."

Hays: Force Behind Plate

Kristen Miller's name won't jump out of a box score dominated by Katie Burkhart's strikeouts and Krista Donnenwirth's RBIs. But Arizona State's catcher is the under-the-radar reason the Sun Devils are one win away from their first national championship, writes Graham Hays. Story

Donnenwirth, who leads all freshmen with 73 RBIs, went the opposite way for a pair of run-scoring singles to right and also pulled an inside pitch over the left-field fence for a solo home run to provide all of the offense for the sixth-seeded Sun Devils (65-5).

"I felt like I was just seeing it really well tonight. Outside, inside, I don't think it would matter tonight," Donnenwirth said. "I was seeing it. I was in the zone."

Burkhart struck out 11 and yielded only a pair of doubles, never allowing fifth-seeded Texas A&M (57-9) to put a runner on third. The senior left-hander retired the last eight batters in order and didn't give up a hit after the fourth inning.

But Burkhart (40-5) had been to the World Series twice before, and both times resulted in early exits. The Sun Devils were the first team eliminated last year, scoring a total of one run in their two losses.

She talked this year about avoiding another "two and barbecue" exit from the World Series, and the Sun Devils' youngest players have provided most of the offensive heroics.

[+] EnlargeASU-Texas A&M
AP Photo/Alonzo AdamsASU's Michelle Nulliner applies the late tag on Texas A&M's Jami Lobpries as she slides into second.

Urfer had a two-run double in the seventh inning of their opening 3-1 win against Alabama, and Rogers had the go-ahead single in their next win against UCLA. Senior Jackie Vasquez provided all the runs in another 3-1 win against Alabama to move on to the championship series, but then it was time for another freshman to shine.

After Vasquez moved into scoring position on a wild pitch, Donnenwirth lined a single down the right-field line to give Arizona State a 1-0 first-inning lead.

She followed that with her line-drive home run to left in the third and then brought in Kaitlin Cochran on a grounder through the hole on the right side in the fifth inning. Donnenwirth matched a career-best with three hits off Megan Gibson (41-3), and she drove in at least three runs for the 11th time this season.

The home run was her 15th of the season, but her first in 17 games.

"I really was going with the same approach. I've been kind of frustrated these last few games, but I knew that it was going to come around," Donnenwirth said. "I was thinking that this is just another softball game."

The Sun Devils are now one win away from joining UCLA, Arizona and California in bringing NCAA softball titles to the Pac-10. UCLA has won 11 championships -- including one vacated by the NCAA -- and in-state rival Arizona has won eight.

"It's about time," Burkhart said. "It's about time that the Sun Devils start to shine because we've been in the shadows of the Wildcats for a long time, and we work just as hard if not harder. We want it this year."

A win in Game 1 hardly guarantees a title, though. Two of the three titles won since the three-game championship series began were taken by teams that rallied after losing the first game.

"I don't think that we were ourselves," said Aggies center fielder Jami Lobpries, who had one of the two doubles. "We know if we are ourselves we can come out and beat that team. It was frustrating that we didn't look like the Texas A&M softball team that we think we are."

Coach Jo Evans said she thought the Aggies took too many first-pitch strikes and allowed Burkhart, who averaged the second-most strikeouts in the country this season, to be the aggressor.

"We have to offensively be better so we feel like we are in that ball game and so that [Gibson] feels like we are in the ball game," Evans said. "I felt like we got a little discouraged at the plate and it got the best of us.

"I think we need to be really hungry when we come out tomorrow and understand we have a national title on the line."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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