Arizona State wins first NCAA softball title in rout


OKLAHOMA CITY -- Katie Burkhart thought about giving up on her dream, stopping her chase for the glory of the national championship.

Oh, what she would have missed if she'd let herself quit.

Burkhart threw a four-hitter, Kaitlin Cochran finally showed off her hitting prowess with a three-run home run and Arizona State claimed its first Women's College World Series title with an 11-0 win against Texas A&M on Tuesday night.

"I've been speechless since we won this game," said Burkhart, the Sun Devils' bubbly left-handed ace. "This is the most phenomenal experience I've ever had. This is what I've dreamed about for my entire life. To be able to experience this is something truly amazing.

"This team, they're capable of doing damage and I think we did that today."

Burkhart struck out 13 to win her 11th straight decision, firing back-to-back shutouts to close out Texas A&M in the best-of-three championship series.

But she almost gave up the game after going 12-14 her freshman season, as the Sun Devils won only four games in the powerful Pac-10 conference.

"After my freshman year, there was questions I had about if I was going to continue to play the game," Burkhart said. "It was kind of a down freshman year, and then coach came in and he believed in us from day one and told us that we were going to the World Series.

"We all looked around at each other like, 'He's out of his gourd.'"

With Burkhart's dominance in the circle and an offensive outburst never seen before in the championship round, the Sun Devils made third-year coach Clint Myers' prediction come true. Arizona State gained some bragging rights in the Pac-10, which already had a slew of titles from softball powers UCLA and Arizona and one from California.

"It is a tradition we're trying to build, and this year's team put it on the map," Myers said.

Cochran went the opposite way for her 14th home run of the season, hitting the first pitch from Megan Gibson (41-4) over the left-field fence to give the sixth-seeded Sun Devils (66-5) a commanding 4-0 lead in the top of the fifth inning.

Arizona State then turned it into a rout with seven runs in the seventh inning, including a two-run single by Caylyn Carlson and a three-run home run by Mindy Cowles that caromed off a canopy over the seats in left field.

The margin ended up matching the second-most lopsided game in World Series history. Only Arizona's 12-0 defeat of Fresno State in the first round of the 1989 World Series was a bigger blowout.

The Sun Devils rushed out of the dugout and celebrated in a huddle on the infield.

"I almost feel unworthy because this is something that so few people get to experience," Cochran said. "I feel so thankful and so lucky to be with this team, this awesome team, and to be a part of something that's so special."

Burkhart pitched around a single by Natalie Villarreal and a walk to Gibson (41-4) to start the fourth inning, and didn't face much trouble the rest of the way. She retired Jami Lobpries on a popout, Erin Glasco on a comebacker and then struck out Jamie Hinshaw to end the threat.

The only other time fifth-seeded Texas A&M (57-10) got a runner on third was in the sixth, when Gibson doubled with two outs and then stole third.

"I don't think it helps that a lot of people decided to go into a slump at the same time," Gibson said. "I think we just needed to be more selective with our pitches that we were swinging at. There were a lot of pitches that were balls that we had people swinging at in our lineup, but that just happens sometimes.

"You go through slumps and you try to get out of them. We just could not get out of it."

Burkhart said a friend had told her to be a shark because "in the wild when they go for prey, when one shark goes, they all go."

"Every pitch I was thinking, 'Be that shark. Right here, let's destroy, let's destroy,'" Burkhart said.

That mentality was a 180-degree turn from the dark days after her freshman year, when Burkhart said she was "pretty dog-gone close" to quitting.

Her mother talked her into giving Myers a chance, and the coach who'd won six junior college national titles in softball and one in baseball gave her and her teammates reason to believe in themselves.

Three years later, the payoff came in the Women's College World Series title he promised at the start.

"I am so passionate, and I've never ever been a quitter in my entire life. I've never even thought about it until then," Burkhart said. "I gave it a chance and I'm really glad and I feel really blessed that I did. Someone was looking out for me."