(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
For Arizona State, coming from behind to win ballgames has been so common one might start guessing who will be the next player in the batters box to start the comeback. On Wednesday night, however, it was a series of key defensive plays that started the comeback for the Sun Devils.
With a 6-5 victory over Arizona (24-14 9-9), the No. 5 Sun Devils (26-11 13-5) claimed a Territorial Cup point by winning the season series over the rival.
“That’s big and that’s big for us,” first baseman Joey Bielek said, the unlikely hero of the game. “Skip just tries to preach to us that it’s just any other series. Why would we change our momentum if we’re not going hard for all the games, why should we have extra to go hard at it?”
ASU closer Ryan Burr made things interesting in the ninth en route to his 12th save of the season. Despite allowing a run, his head coach admitted, “Part of me wanted him to exorcise those demons of that last game at our place, and for him to come in and face the adversity he faced in the ninth. To still execute quality pitches after that was huge.”
But in a game with so many huge moments, there was another that swung the momentum in ASU’s favor.
After three straight singles and trailing 4-2 in the sixth, Bielek failed on two bunt attempts. He was then called on by Tracy Smith up the third base line for a conference.
“I said if the first baseman is back, I want you to put it down. If he’s in front of him go ahead and swing away. So it was all on him,” Smith said.
Bielek laid the bunt down and pitcher Austin Schnabel subsequently threw the ball away towards third to allow a run to score. Looking back, the senior had mixed emotions.
“I don’t know if I was more happy or surprised. But either way it worked out in our favor. It’s a tough game, sometimes you make mistakes. Sometimes they go in your favor, sometimes they don’t.”
After a pinch-hit sac fly by Zach Cerbo to tie the game at four, and an RBI single by Andrew Snow to take the lead, ASU had surmounted its largest comeback of the season after trailing by four after two innings.
The Wildcats hung all four runs on the board in the second inning, chasing starter David Graybill from the game. The junior walked four batters to set a new career high, with three of them eventually scoring.
“He’s still developing as a pitcher,” said the skipper on Graybill. “I’m not gonna be critical like that. It’s tough to get comfortable out there when you’re not out there pitching competitively. You try to find spots to put him in there.”
Left-hander Eli Lingos didn’t fare much better. After inheriting a 2-0 count to JJ Matijevic from Graybill, he completed the walk and issued another to Justin Behnke, leading to the first run.
The dangerous Scott Kingery then battled from an 0-2 count and ripped a double into left-center to score a pair. The inning could have been a lot worse, but thanks to an athletic play by third baseman David Greer, only one more runner crossed the plate.
The Sun Devils didn’t get on the board until the fourth inning thanks to a pair of singles by Greer and Trever Allen, and a sacrifice fly by RJ Ybarra.
The game really took off in the bottom of the fifth.
Freshman Ryan Hingst allowed a one-out walk to Zach Gibbons, who advanced to second on a groundout. Tyler Krause poked a single through the left side, and Jake Peevyhouse came up firing. The throw was a touch up the third base line, but catcher Brian Serven somehow handled the ball after Gibbons barreled into him for the final out of the inning.
“We made some really nice defensive plays that kept the game close. Jake throwing the guy out at the plate; David with the diving stop. To me the play of the game was the two-out base hit and not scoring.” Smith said.
The base hit he is referring to came in the third when JJ Matijevic singled up the middle and Cody Ramer rounded third only to be held up by his third base coach, Matt Siegel. After Sun Devil center fielder Johnny Sewald bobbled the ball, however, he then waved him in. Nevertheless, Ramer hesitated and ultimately decided to stay put on third.
“You spread the game out to five there and I don’t even know what happens, but I was very pleased and proud of the way we just kept playing. And that kind of seems to be the mentality of this group.”
In relief, Ryan Hingst and Darin Gillies combined for six scoreless innings and six strikeouts. For Gillies, it was his first appearance since April 7th against UNLV. Bielek offered his compliments and shared the team’s mentality as the final month of the season approaches.
“We need them down the stretch if we’re going to be a national contender, which we think we are. We are going to need them for sure.”
You can reach the writer on twitter @Dom_Cotroneo