(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
Considering the start the Sun Devils had on Tuesday night and the way the weekend went, they had to feel as though all would go according to plan against the Rebels. But UNLV (16-20) never said die and was rewarded by an ugly defensive showing from Arizona State (20-14) in the sixth inning, en route to an 11-7 thrashing of the Sun Devils.
ASU tried to make it interesting with a three-run eighth inning thanks to timely hits by pinch-hitter Sebastian Zawada and leadoff man Andrew Snow. In the end, six unearned runs were the nail in the coffin for ASU as it drops its third midweek game in six tries this season.
Player of the game: UNLV’s Nick Ames
One could say this should go to Cody Howard’s three-hit performance, but the freshman Ames hit his first collegiate home run in the fourth inning off of Jordan Aboites–a three-run shot to right that tied the game at three. It was the spark that got the Rebels back in the game and unnerved the Devils for the time being.
Unsung hero(s): RJ Ybarra & Sebastian Zawada
After head coach Tracy Smith opted to pull Zach Cerbo on defense from first base, he filled the position with RJ Ybarra. His first at-bat of the game was a two-out pinch-hit bloop single into right field to score a run. He would provide another single in the eighth-inning rally that was also to the opposite field. Perhaps we’ll see more of Ybarra at first after tonight.
Zawada was pushed in a pressure situation, pinch-hitting for red-hot Gage Canning with two men on, facing a new left-handed pitcher in Corey Wilson. He clobbered a drive to dead-center field that bounced off the top of the “410” sign for a double. His power threat will be huge for the rest of the year.
You knew it was over when: ASU made a mental error in the sixth, allowing the fifth unearned run of the inning to score.
With runners on the corners and two outs, UNLV opted for the classic “steal from first and stop” distraction play. Payton Squire stopped before he got to the bag trying to buy time for Kyle Isbel to score from third. ASU was prepared though and started to walk Squier back to first. He was about halfway when Snow inexplicably threw the ball to Cerbo at first base. That allowed Isbel to break for home and Cerbo’s throw to the plate was wild.
In an inning with so much sloppiness already, another one to the pile felt insurmountable.
Biggest concern for ASU: Defense
Chris Isbell took the hard-luck loss due to the pair of errors committed that at the time saved an extra 90 feet from the Rebels, but that could not be overcome. Tracy Smith has commented that when he feels he puts an offensive lineup out there, they continually suffer on defense, and vice versa. Six unearned runs is tough to swallow, and in Tracy Smith’s eyes, it’s unacceptable.
Stat of the night: Six unearned runs
For reasons already explained.
What’s Next? Stanford on the road.
ASU returns to Pac-12 play in northern California against a surprising Stanford Cardinal team that is currently fourth in the conference. The three-game series will determine if the Sun Devils’ upset over No. 15 Cal was legit or a flash in the pan.
Dominic Cotroneo is a Pac-12 Digital broadcaster for ASU Baseball and reporter on the team for CronkiteSports.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Dom_Cotroneo