OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – It certainly wasn’t a fluke that Sierra Romero led the Big Ten Conference in home runs as a freshman in 2013.
The rookie routinely delivered throughout the year for Michigan and did so once again early on Sunday morning in Women’s College World Series action at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla.
Her two-run blast during the third inning backed a shutout from pitcher Sara Driesenga as eighth-seeded Michigan squeezed past fifth-seeded Arizona State in a game that ended at 2:33 a.m. local time, 2-0.
Romero was the offensive leader with a 1-for-3 effort with the HR and two RBIs, while right fielder Nicole Sappingfield posted two hits in three at-bats. In the circle Driesenga (31-8) scattered seven hits, walked three and struck out five in a complete-game shutout victory.
Arizona State center fielder Alix Johnson and second baseman Sam Parlich each tallied two of ASU’s seven total hits in the contest, while starter Dallas Escobedo (30-6) suffered the pitching defeat after permitting two earned runs on three hits with four walks and three K’s in just 2.1 frames.
It was truly an up-and-down opening frame from the circle for Arizona State starter Dallas Escobedo. The right hander opened the contest by walking Michigan center fielder Lyndsey Doyle, struck out right fielder Nicole Sappingfield, hit shortstop Sierra Romero with a pitch and struck out first baseman Caitlin Blanchard before inducing a foul pop-up behind the plate off the bat of second baseman Ashley Lane to end the inning.
For Michigan’s Sara Driesenga, the bottom of the first was a one-two-three breeze as the hurler got ASU center fielder Alix Johnson to groundout to first before recording consecutive K’s of shortstop Cheyenne Coyle and catcher Amber Freeman.
Arizona State third baseman Haley Steele led off the bottom of the second with a walk to become the Sun Devils’ initial base occupant of the match-up against Driesenga. The runner never advanced into scoring position, however, as first baseman Bethany Kemp flew out to right and second baseman Sam Parlich and designated player Lucy Aubrecht each hit into fielder’s choices.
The Wolverines cracked the scoreboard first in the top of the third as a leadoff walk issued to Doyle was cashed in on a two-run opposite field blast by Romero as UM nabbed a 2-0 advantage. A double to right center from Blanchard and consecutive walks issued to Lane and third baseman Amy Knapp ended Escobedo’s stint in the circle as Mackenzie Popescue entered in relief facing a one-out, bases loaded situation. The new hurler delivered in the clutch with a K of catcher Lauren Sweet before inducing an inning-ending grounder to third from left fielder Sierra Lawrence.
ASU left fielder Elizabeth Caporuscio got a threat started in the bottom of the third by leading off the frame with a base knock through the middle. Following a pair of fielder’s choices, Coyle hit a shot to second that was booted for an error, placing a pair on base for Arizona State. A walk to Freeman loaded the bags and brought out Michigan’s pitching coach for a quick visit with Driesenga to discuss strategy. Whatever they discussed seemed to work as the hurler got Steele to ground routinely to second on a 3-1 offering to leave the bases loaded.
Each team left runners stranded during the fourth, while in the fifth it was the Sun Devils who registered the most serious scoring chance. Right fielder Bailey Wigness opened the frame with an infield single to third and moved to second in a Driesenga wild pitch. Johnson followed with a base knock up the middle, placing runners at the corners with still no one retired. Coyle blasted a shot that looked as if it might escape through the infield, but Romero knocked it down at short to keep Wigness at third and load the bases for Freeman. Facing a golden opportunity to get ASU on the scoreboard, the Pac-12 Player of the Year hit a shot to third that was quickly turned into a rally-killing 5-2-3 double play for two vital outs. Driesenga walked Steele intentionally to re-load the bags, and that proved the correct move as Kemp battled valiantly but went down swinging during an eight-pitch at-bat as Michigan maintained it 2-0 advantage.
Following two relatively quiet frames, Arizona State faced a final chance to extend the contest in the bottom of the seventh. The Sun Devils wouldn’t go quietly as Johnson ripped a leadoff single up the middle to bring the potential tying run to the plate. The Wolverine defense stepped up to the challenge, however, turning a Coyle bouncer back to the circle into a 1-6-3 double play that wiped the bases clear. Down to a final out, Freeman ripped a shot off the glove of Knapp at third. The carom traveled right to Romero, though, and she tossed on to Blanchard at first just in time to seal UM’s 2-0 victory.