(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
Arizona State lost on a walk-off walk in the 14th inning against Cal State Fullerton by the score of 3-2 in the longest game (innings-wise) in ASU postseason history.
The Sun Devils jumped out to an early lead, but the offense stalled after the second inning, and the bullpen eventually relinquished the game when Eder Erives allowed a walk with the bases loaded in the 14th.
CSU Fullerton starter Thomas Eshelman brought one of the most impressive resumes in the country into the game. The right-hander had walked just six hitters in 114 and 1/3 total innings entering the game, and was masterful again Saturday night, not allowing any free passes in his nine innings of work.
Eshelman was expected to start the Titans’ opener, but was pushed back by head coach Rick Vanderhook in hopes of a competitive outing against a higher caliber opponent. He showed no signs of rust in a brilliant performance, striking out 14 and allowing two earned runs while throwing an absurd 143 pitches.
ASU got on the board quickly when Johnny Sewald scored on an errant throw during his steal attempt of third base, after originally reaching on a leadoff double.
Andrew Snow continued the hot offensive start by homering off Eshelman in the following inning. It was the second home run of the season for the freshman and the fourth home run allowed by Eshelman in his 16 starts.
After the second inning, however, Eshelman found his groove and stymied the Sun Devil bats. They blew a big opportunity to score in the top of the sixth when they put runners on the corners with no outs but struck out three consecutive times.
ASU also came up empty in the top of the 10th when Joey Bielek struck out with the bases loaded. Shortstop Timmy Richards had prevented the potential go-ahead run in the previous at-bat with a diving stop on Trever Allen’s infield single.
Starting pitcher Seth Martinez was solid throughout most of his outing, only allowing two runs, although he failed to get out of the sixth inning. Martinez incurred issues during his third time through the order, which has been a theme for him during the season.
The bottom of the sixth inning was a strenuous one for the Sun Devils, as it involved four different pitchers. They managed to escape, though, by allowing only one run.
Tracy Smith opted to throw Brett Lilek in relief, and he did his job by getting one out and preserving the tie. Eli Lingos and Darin Gillies also appeared in relief and served their roles with success.
Lilek continued beyond the sixth inning, giving the rest of the bullpen a breather. His two innings of work in the game make it unlikely that he will pitch in Sunday’s game, meaning Darin Gillies or Jordan Aboites will likely be in line for a spot start.
Ryan Burr took over for Lilek and labored through 3 and 1/3 scoreless innings, proving his prowess in clutch moments. He was aided by multiple standout plays by the third baseman Aboites. Burr (70) ended up throwing more pitches than Martinez (63).
Cal State Fullerton was more frugal with its pitchers, as it used just two in the game. Tyler Peitzmeier threw five innings in relief after Eshelman was removed.
Erives was sharp in his first inning of work, but lost command after that, walking three batters and hitting another, leading to the Titans’ ultimate walk-off walk.
The Sun Devils will face Pepperdine later on Sunday with their pitching staff looking somewhat burned. Three straight wins are now the task at hand in order to advance to the Super Regionals.