South Carolina need only look to last weekend to consider Friday a speed bump along the way.
The Gamecocks used dramatic moments to get this far in the NCAA softball tournament, and they are prepared for more following a 5-2 loss to Arizona State on Friday in the first game of a best-of-three Super Regional series at Farrington Stadium.
“We have that never-give-up attitude,” said Kennedy Clark, whose two-run homer accounted for USC's scoring.
“We trust each other and know we can come through like in the past. We can build off last weekend and we can come out strong these next two games and take the series.”
Clark extended the school season home run record with the Gamecocks’ 65th in the seventh inning, but that was only their second hit off sophomore left-hander Giselle Juarez. The ASU starter took a no-hitter into the seventh before Alyssa VanDerveer opened the inning with a hard single up the middle to break it up.
Clark followed with her fifth homer.
“I was just looking for my pitch,” Clark said. “I felt like earlier in my at-bats I was swinging at her pitch. I focused on what I wanted and what I could crush.”
The Gamecocks got only three runners on base in the first six innings against Juarez (25-4), whose 0.88 ERA was the lowest among players remaining in the NCAA tournament.
Jana Johns was hit by a pitch with two outs in the second inning, Cayla Drotar walked with one out in the fourth and Johns walked on a 14-pitch at-bat to open the fifth. None reached second. Juarez struck out eight.
“Getting something going in the last inning was critical,” coach Beverly Smith said. “Our offense is tough, and we have to tip our hat to their pitcher tonight. She did a great job
“Who knows, maybe we were pressing trying to do too much? Our team is never going to die. The fact that we came through in the seventh was very important.”
South Carolina right-hander Dixie Raley (14-5) shut out Liberty in the first of two elimination games the Gamecocks won Sunday to make their first Super Regional since 1997, but the Sun Devils got to her early Friday.
Morgan Howe had an RBI double for a 1-0 lead in the first inning, an inning that opened when center fielder Kamryn Watts made a diving catch. Jade Gortarez hit a two-run homer for a 3-0 lead in the second inning, and the Sun Devils used four singles and an infield error to score two more runs in the fourth.
“Raley has had two excellent outings lately,” Smith said.
“After watching the video, I thought she was going to be a really good matchup for Arizona State, just with some up spin and change of speed. Certainly hats off to Arizona State. They came out swinging the bat.”
Drotar is expected to start Saturday, Smith said.
The no-hitter could have ended earlier. Mackenzie Boesel was robbed of a single leading off the fourth inning when right fielder Kindra Hackbarth made a diving catch of her sinking liner. Kenzi Maguire lined out to shortstop on the first pitch of the game.
“We were taking our normal aggressive hacks, but we weren’t swinging at pitches that we could hit,” Kennedy said. “She has some good movement on her pitches.”
No. 8 South Carolina at No. 9 Arizona State
What: NCAA softball tournament, best-of-three Super Regional series
When: Game two, 9 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2)
Game three (if necessary), 9 p.m. Sunday (ESPNU)
Stream: WatchESPN app
At stake: Women's College World Series berth