(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
After a rain delay that lasted nearly two hours, No. 12 Arizona State (31-19, 16-10) came up short in a pitcher’s duel against the Washington State Cougars (27-25, 10-16), losing 1-0 in 10 innings.
ASU pitched impeccably well, but could not solve the Cougars’ pitching, which had the Sun Devil bats fooled just one game after they put up five runs. Washington State only had two hits itself, but it was enough to win the game.
ASU starter Brett Lilek recorded a new career-high with 11 strikeouts, and taking away a walk-filled third inning, was brilliant on the mound. Over seven innings, he surrendered just one hit, an infield single, and did not allow any runs. His gem followed up Ryan Kellogg’s complete game shutout last night.
“That’s a good sign that he (Lilek) is throwing the baseball like he is capable of doing,” head coach Tracy Smith said. “You have those two guys at the top of your rotation throwing like that and giving you a chance to win, which is exactly what we had tonight. We did not take advantage of the pitching performance, but it was certainly a good sign to see him throw the way he did tonight.”
The junior left-hander has not pitched his best against lower-caliber Pac-12 teams, but certainly showed up on Friday night. He struck out seven out of the last eight batters that he faced, and allowed only two base runners after the third inning.
“Keeping the hitters off balance and locating pitches was what was working for me,” Lilek said. “I think once you get ahead as a pitcher, it’s a big confidence booster.”
Although he wasn’t credited with a win in the box score, Lilek arguably tossed his best game of the season and one of his best ever in his three-year Sun Devil career. His resurgence is great sight for ASU and comes at the perfect time with postseason play approaching.
“I said the other night that we aren’t as deep as we need to be on the mound,” Smith said. “For us to be effective with that plan and put the guys out there that give us the best chance to win, we need our starters to go deep. He certainly is doing his part, we just didn’t get it done offensively tonight.”
“I’m not going to lie, it is a little frustrating (not to get a win),” Lilek said. “But then again, as a pitcher, you hit those streaks where you’re going to face good pitchers. We battled, it’s not like we gave it away early, but it is tough.”
The Sun Devils moved Lilek up a spot in the rotation, and it is likely that he will stay there for the time being. He was switched out of the Friday starter job after the third weekend of the season, but is far from the same pitcher that he was then. He is starting to look more and more like the Lilek of 2014 that posted a 2.68 ERA.
Darin Gillies came in to relieve Lilek and had an up and down outing. He issued a walk and a wild pitch in the 10th inning, and was close to getting out of the jam before pinch hitter Wes Leow sneaked a single through the left side for the only run of the game. It was the first run WSU had scored in its last 20 innings.
Gillies also tied a career-high in relief strikeouts with five and contributed to the Sun Devils’ season-high of 16 strikeouts. Gillies also retired the first seven hitters he faced before allowing the run.
Cougars’ starter Joe Pistorese matched Lilek every step of the way, allowing five hits over eight shutout innings, as he continues to solidify himself as one of the bright spots for WSU this season. The left-hander only got into one jam during his outing, but he also benefitted from a couple of baserunning mistakes by the Sun Devils.
ASU could not get anything going at the plate besides a sixth inning bases loaded threat that did not lead to any runs. The Sun Devils managed only six hits and did not muster a baserunner until Johnny Sewald’s fourth inning walk.
“You get limited chances and we didn’t get the two out hits tonight,” Smith said. “I’m not happy about it, but that guy made big pitches when he needed to. This is a tough one, but if you lose 1-0 or 20-0, you still lose, we just have to focus on trying to win this series.”
It was the second consecutive weekend that the Sun Devils have lost an extra inning game, but Smith was optimistic that they would come out just as energized tomorrow.
“You have to recover. It doesn’t make you feel good, and you replay a couple things mentally, but you have to regroup and come out and play tomorrow. If we find a way to win the next two series, we will be in good shape. Through all of our struggles, if we can do that, it’s a new season heading into the postseason,” Smith said.
With the loss, the Sun Devils are now 5-2 in extra inning games and are 15-7 in one-run games. They also dropped to 50-16 all-time against WSU, but will have an opportunity to salvage a series victory tomorrow when they send Seth Martinez to the mound.