(Photo: Nicholas Badders/WCSN)
With golden opportunities being few and far between for the Arizona State Sun Devils in 2017, a series against a California Golden Bears team similar in record seemed perfect for the squad.
However as the Devils left Berkeley, poor pitching, struggles with hitting and a lack of competitiveness drove them further into the basement of the Pac-12 standings, as the Bears came away with the series sweep.
Friday night starting pitcher Eli Lingos lasted only 2/3 of an inning, allowing two runs on four hits, throwing only 16 pitches in what became his third loss of the season.
Cal took an early lead in the first inning as freshman phenom Andrew Vaughn crushed his league-leading eighth home run of the season for Cal and had four total RBIs on the day.
Eder Erives relieved Lingos and showed early signs of struggle, allowing three runs in the second inning. Erives pitched into the sixth inning before being relived by Reagan Todd, but not before giving up two more runs in the inning. The senior allowed seven hits in five innings of work, walked four and struck out two.
ASU scored their first run of the game in the third when Gage Canning singled to lead off the inning, then stole second, advanced to third on a passed ball and came around to score on a Jeremy McCuin groundout.
Chris Isbell took the mound in the eighth, looking to keep the Sun Devil deficit at a six-run disadvantage, with the score 7-1, but the sophomore allowed three hits and two runs to give the Golden Bears a 9-1 lead heading into the ninth.
The ninth inning on Friday was ASU’s biggest inning of the weekend, as the Devils tallied for five runs, beginning with an Andrew Shaps triple. Tyler Williams would walk, then Andrew Snow reached on a dropped third strike and advanced to second on the play, as Williams came in to score.
Carter Aldrete contained the rally with a double that score Snow, then Gage Canning singled and pinch-hitter Sam Ferri drove a 2-RBI, pinch-hit double to left-cents field.
Despite the struggles from the pitching staff, the ASU offense managed to find bright spots, as Gage Canning collected his second straight three-hit contest and the Devils put up a five spot in the ninth to force Cal to bring in closer Erik Martinez to finish off the game in the pouring rain.
Once again, the Golden Bears got out to an early lead, however this time it came later than on Friday.
After the Bay Area saw rain Thursday and Friday nights, the forecast looked clear for most Saturday, but after ASU went 1-2-3 in the first inning, the rain that had begun to pour down at the start of the game turned into hail that led to the field clearing and a delay that lasted approximately 30 minutes.
When play resumed, freshman Chaz Montoya got to work early, striking out leadoff hitter Tyrus Greene, then induced a double play to end the inning.
Cal started the scoring off in the second, as three singles and a wild pitch put them on the board against Montoya. They continued where they left off in the third inning, as Denis Karas drilled to a double to left, then Tanner Dodson tripled to right.
With two outs, Max Flower walked to get on first base and with Dodson on third, attempted to steal second. Rather than tagging out Flower for the final out of the inning, second baseman Taylor Lane fired home to try and throw out Dodson, but a late throw plated Cal’s four run of the inning and fifth of the game. In the aftermath of the play, Lane was removed from game and Andrew Snow pinch hit for his fellow junior in the fourth.
As Montoya continued to struggle with command on the mound, the Bears tacked on another run in the fifth inning, when Dodson doubled to left and scored on a fielder’s choice to put Cal up 6-0.
That would be all for the freshman southpaw, who in five innings, allowed six runs on eight hits, striking out five, but walking five batters as well.
Montoya would be received by fellow freshman Alec Marsh, who had arguably his best outing of the year, going three scoreless innings, while allowing three hits and two walks. Marsh also struck out two of the 13 Cal batters he faced in the final innings.
ASU jumped on the board in the the sixth inning when Tyler Williams and Andrew Shaps hit back-to-back home runs on back-to-back pitches to put the Devils within four. After Andrew Snow doubled, Gage Canning followed up with a double of his own, scoring Snow and sending starting pitcher Joey Matulovich to the showers after 5 and 2/3 innings of work.
The Devils would tack on in the seventh, as Williams scored on a Shaps double to bring ASU within three, however Cal’s Tanner Dodson and closer Erik Martinez proved to be too dominant, as the Golden Bears from Berkeley shut down ASU for the second straight game.
Andrew Shaps had a three-hit afternoon, coming a triple away from the cycle in the game and Andrew Snow collected two doubles in the game. In addition, Tyler William’s home run was his fourth of the season, a mark that leads the team.
Looking to salvage the series and trip to the Bay Area, ASU sent Jake Godfrey to the mound as their starter, but Godfrey’s time in the game did not last long. After giving up six hits and allowing three runs, the junior was relieved in favor of lefty Connor Higgins.
Higgins prevented seven of his first eight batters from reaching base, throwing 2 and 1/3 hitless innings, before he began to struggle in the fifth.
Cal struck for four runs in the inning on three hits, putting the score at 7-1 when the inning was over.
Gage Canning connected on his first home run of the season in the fifth, but the Golden Bears based two of their own in the sixth, extending the lead to 10-1 after two-thirds of the game had been played.
ASU scored again in the eighth inning after Andrew Shaps doubled in Andrew Snow, who reached on a walk to lead off the inning. However, the offense was unable to muster any more, as the Sun Devil hitters only managed four hits in the game.
With the final score being 10-2, there was one factor that bothered head coach Tracy Smith.
“I don’t like the fact that, just the non-competitiveness from top,” Smith said after the game. “That really, really concerns me. The losses, you can get beat, but there’s a how you get beat and right now, we’re not real competitive.”
To coach Smith, it appeared that his team had given up after being down early, something that he stressed cannot continue.
“In life, I don’t care if it’s baseball or whatever, you don’t quit,” he told this publication after the sweep. “You give your best effort all the way though, I think this weekend, I’m concerned about it. I’m concerned, do we have the character to say enough’s enough and that’s got to come, it’s honestly got to come from within… And I’ll live with the negative result if I feel like the intent is there and the effort is there and we’re really giving our best effort. What I saw this weekend is I saw quitting and we’re going to talk about that because that’s a bigger life lesson than just baseball.”
To outfielder Gage Canning, the losses were attributed to small things that the team has struggled to do all season long.
“We’re walking guys, we’re letting guys get on base, Canning admitted. “We’re not making plays. We’re not moving runners over, we’re not getting guys in. It’s tough to win when all those things are together.”
With the team being outscored 25-12 in the series, bright spots were few and far between. However, Alec Marsh and James Ryan delivered shutdown pitching performances at the back end of the Saturday and Sunday games. On Sunday, Ryan faced and retired six Berkeley batters, striking out two of them.
Well they were down in the zone. Multiple pitches for a strike down in the zone,” Smith noted. “I though those guys did a good job of mixing their stuff and being down in the zone.”
Another bright spot was Canning, who hit .500, going 6-12 in the weekend, with three runs scored too.
“If I could take that dude and box him up and throw nine of him out there on the field and approach it the way he approaches it, not because he has success… he just plays hard the entire time,” Smith stated. “That, to me, does’t surprise me that he had success because he’s the model of consistency.”
The sophomore felt that while he was seeing the ball well personally, he was more focused on trying to get the team to rally together and pull out a victory.
“When you’re seeing the ball well, it just feels like you can’t get out, or when you are, you’re hitting the ball hard still…. It felt good, but at the same time, we’re still down, I knew we had to focus on that more, so I wasn’t too worried about that, more worried about getting more runners on base.”
Next up for ASU is another home game against UNLV, a team that they beat 5-4 two weeks ago.
“We’re still just trying to say positive,” Canning said after the loss on Sunday. “We know we can beat the team, we’ve beat them already. So we’re just going to go in there and expect to beat them.”