Sun Devils salvage a win out of series loss versus Wildcats
In what Head Coach Tracy Smith called a “statistical anomaly,” the Arizona State Sun Devils (16-7, 5-4 Pac-12) defeated the in-state foe #16 Arizona Wildcats (18-8, 5-4 Pac-12) in a 3-2 win Saturday night at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
Despite tallying 11 hits, the Wildcats could only muster two runs. In comparison, Arizona State scored three runs on just five hits.
“If you look at the box score, it’s probably one of those ‘statistical anomalies’ [that make you say] ‘How did we win this game?’” Smith said his postgame address.
The Sun Devils delivered the first two punches in the bottom of the second, as a sacrifice fly from freshman infielder Jack Moss brought redshirt junior outfielder Hunter Jump home. Freshman infielder Hunter Hass followed with an RBI double that snuck down the first base line, allowing freshman infielder Ethan Long to score.
Arizona State led 2-0 until freshman Jacob Berry drove in sophomore Nik McClaughry on a single in the third inning, to make the score 2-1. The score would hold until the bottom of the sixth, when Jump dropped an RBI single to score redshirt freshman infielder Sean McLain.
At the top of the fourth, Sun Devil fans let out a collective yelp as Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs drained a buzzer beater to send the Bulldogs to the national championship. Arizona’s Kobe Kato was visibly confused as to why his 1-1 approach in the batter’s box was so exciting,
Redshirt junior lefty Justin Fall collected the win, striking out four in six innings while walking one and allowing one run.
When asked following the game, “How does your arm feel?” Fall responded bluntly: “I’m ready to go,” as he stood up and left the (virtual) podium.
A make-or-break moment came in the top of the seventh after Fall allowed a leadoff double from McClaughry, then hit junior Donta’ Williams to load first and second with no outs. Tracy Smith inserted redshirt sophomore righty Will Levine, who responded with a strikeout followed by the Sun Devil infield’s second double play of the night, escaping the jam with a tying run at first base.
“The double play was certainly our friend tonight,” Smith added. Drew Swift, Sean McLain, and Jack Moss combined for three double plays Saturday night.
The response in the bottom of the seventh was a one, two three; groundout, fly out, strikeout inning from the Sun Devil bats.
Another crucial test arrived in the top of the eighth, as the tying run stood at third base. Levine delivered a strikeout on a 2-2 pitch, with two outs and two runners in scoring positions.
The standout performance earned Levine a headset postgame, to join the Pac-12 Network broadcast. Even without a shortage of high-pressure situations during the game, Levine grinned while saying that he was more nervous on the broadcast, “than I was in certain situations during the game.”
After striking out twice and walking once earlier in Saturday’s game, McLain extended his hit streak to 21-straight games on a single in the eighth inning. The base hit tied Spencer Torkelson, Ike Davis, Colin Curtis, and Brooks Conrad for the fourth-longest hit streak on the team since 1998.
Without any runs scored in the bottom half of the ninth, ASU had a small, one-run cushion while requiring three outs. Levine said his mindset was to, “pump in strikes and let the defense work.”
And that’s exactly what he did.
Levine went to work, striking out Williams in three pitches, then jamming Berry and sophomore Branden Boissiere to ground out in rapid at-bats to end the game.
“He’s an exceptional story,” Smith said of Levine. After not starting for the first two weeks of the season, injuries in the pitching staff forced Smith to bring Levine into the picture. “He has capitalized and grown in that role… we feel tremendously confident in him.”
The two teams will meet again on Tuesday, in a single-game, midweek series in Tucson on Tuesday. The Sun Devils will not play at Phoenix Municipal until April 16 for a series against Stanford.