(Photo: Blaine McCormick/WCSN)
1985. The only season in the history of the Arizona State baseball program that the Sun Devils had finished the season with more losses than wins.
Now, 2017 can be added to that list as with their loss to the Arizona Wildcats on Saturday, ASU ensured that they will finish this season under .500 for the first time in over 30 years.
Coming into game one on Thursday, the Devils needed to go 5-1 in their final six games in order to avoid that mark and started the series off with a loss, as Arizona bested them in a close back-and-forth battle, 6-5.
While the Wildcats scored first, ASU had an answer for everything that was thrown at them through the first six innings, sending the game into the seventh tied at three. After JJ Matijevic doubled in two runs for Arizona in the top of the 5th, Gage Canning took the team lead in home runs in the bottom half to bring his team within one. Taylor Lane then walked and came around to score four batters later on a wild pitch.
Starter Eder Erives pitched into the seventh inning, but after a runner reached from an error and a hit and walk were issued, Connor Higgins came in to relieve Erives. However, the senior turned in the best outing he could, allowing three runs on five hits through his first six innings, before loading the bases for Higgins to lead off the seventh.
The newly inserted Higgins was able to get Matijevic to go down swinging for the first out, but a sac bunt and error later, the Wildcats had a 6-3 lead heading into the bottom of the inning. All three inherited runs allowed by Higgins though were unearned, as Andrew Snow committed two errors in the inning, three unearned runs that proved to be the difference maker, as they were credited to Erives, who took the loss.
The Sun Devils did not quit in game one though, as Zach Cerbo drilled a two-out home run to center field in the seventh and relievers Grant Schneider and Garvin Alston Jr. kept the Wildcats off of the board for the remainder of the game. With two outs in the ninth, ASU scored on a passed ball to put them within one but were unable to close it out, falling to their desert rival.
Friday was a much more contained game, as the two teams combined to score only four runs, all of which were scored on the same play that an out was recorded.
Eli Lingos was given the start for ASU and pitched a strong six innings, similar to Erives the night before, allowing him to go into the seventh. Through his first innings, the junior allowed one run on six hits but back-to-back singles to open up the seventh prompted Tracy Smith to head to his bullpen. Ryan Hingst was able to record an out, but allowed a run on that fielder’s choice and gave up a walk, so Smith turned to Tanner West, who allowed the runner he inherited from Lingos to score but got out of the inning otherwise unscathed.
West would go on to pitch 1-2-3 frames in the eight and ninth innings in attempts to keep the Sun Devils in the game, but outside of singles from Myles Denson and Lane, the ASU offense could not heat up. Their only run of the game came in the sixth inning, when Cerbo brought in Hunter Bishop on a sacrifice fly. Arizona starting pitcher Cameron Ming went on to throw a perfect ninth inning on his way to not only his second complete game of the season, but second in his last three starts.
With the series-losing loss, ASU dipped to a record of 23-28 and with four games left on the schedule cemented the fact that the Sun Devils would not finish above .500 in 2017. Following Ming’s masterful performance, the Devils looked to salvage the series on Saturday in game three.
The game got off to a rocky start early on, as Chaz Montoya gave up three first inning runs and ended up only throwing two and 2/3 innings. However, only one of the runs was earned, with Denson dropping a foul ball early in the inning. Montoya pitched into the third inning, but after an error, a balk and three walks, was taken out of the game in favor of Hingst.
Hingst was able to quickly get out of the inning, but didn’t stay in the game for long. A walk, hit and hit batter forced Smith to turn to his third of six pitchers in the game in Alec Marsh.
The freshman was able to quiet the storm and give ASU a chance to get back in the game, as he pitched three and 1/3 inning of one-run relief, with that one run being allowed on a wild pitch by Higgins. Despite Marsh’s efforts, one of the recent month’s biggest storylines continued as the big hit continued to be lacking, not giving the Devils a chance to get back in the ballgame.
Andrew Snow scored on a Lyle Lin sacrifice fly in the third inning, but until the ninth inning, the Devils could not find a way to plate a run. Singles continued to be what their offense could manage, with two coming in each the fourth and sixth innings, including two off the bat of Carter Aldrete.
With the score still at 6-1 in the ninth inning, Alston Jr. made his second appearance of the series, only to hit a batter, give up two wild pitches and a hit. Two more runs crossed the plate after James Ryan took over on the mound, putting ASU into a 9-1 hole heading to their final three outs.
Then, for the only time in the series, the big hits came. While they were not enough to mount a full comeback, the Sun Devils made noise with no outs, as Jeremy McCuin, Nick Cheema, Canning and Lin each came through with hits to plate a total of four runs. For Cheema, it was his first collegiate hit and run batted in. For McCuin, his eighth triple of the year, tying him at the top of the country’s leaderboard in that regard. Additionally, it was the sophomore’s 10th game of the season with at least three hits.
Despite quality efforts from a good portion of ASU’s pitching staff, poor defense and a continued lack of the big bit kept the Devils from taking a lead in the series and drove them further below .5o0.
Done with their home schedule, the Sun Devils will hit the road and head to Salt Lake City, where they close out their season next weekend against the Utah Utes.
Nick Badders is a baseball beat writer for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network. You can follow him on Twitter @BadderUpSports.