(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
In the grand scheme of things, the regular season finale in regards to postseason hosting chances was in dormie mode. There was pride and third place in the Pac-12 on the line, but in the end, there was little to gain for the victor.
Southern California (37-19, 18-12) defeated Arizona State (34-21, 18-12) by a final of 6-3 and claimed the unofficial bronze medal in the Pac-12. With the regional hosts announced during the game, and neither team claiming one of the 16 sites, the game doesn’t hurt the Sun Devils too bad.
“I don’t like to lose, they don’t like to lose, we’re not happy about it and we’re not happy about it because of the way we played,” Tracy Smith said postgame. “It didn’t cost us anything on the national scene, but I’m just sick to my stomach about our conference. I think our conference was, quite frankly, disrespected.”
UCLA was the lone team from the Pac-12 announced as a host, over USC and Oregon State most notably. UCSB’s bid to host at Lake Elsinore was accepted, and all the speculation that ASU or USC would host in its place turned out to be for nothing.
In the game, base-running and mental errors lead to the Sun Devils’ demise.
The tough day on the bases began in the second. After an RY Ybarra sacrifice fly, Joey Bielek tried to take third base on a ball in the dirt during Zach Cerbo’s at-bat. USC catcher Garrett Stubbs recovered and gunned down Bielek in time to end the inning. In the third, Andrew Snow was picked off of second by Stubbs again, leaning too far on his secondary lead to also end the inning. It would be the last Snow saw of the field as, he was pulled shortly after.
“He had been told multiple times to shorten his secondary…that just can’t happen. Particularly being told 30 seconds before,” the head coach said. The Sun Devils were caught again in the seventh, when Johnny Sewald was caught stealing for the ninth time this season.
ASU starter Seth Martinez ran into his first trouble in the fourth inning with back-to-back one-out singles by Jeremey Martinez and Timmy Robinson. He then balked on a pickoff throw to first by never letting go of the baseball. On the next pitch, Dante Flores grounded out to second (on what would have been a potential double play ball before the balk) and resulted in USC’s first run.
In the fifth, Bobby Stahel hit a towering homer to left field on a hanging slider from Martinez. The three-run shot came with two-outs after a walk to nine-hitter Reggie Southall.
The Sun Devils chased starter Mitch Hart after three innings, prompting Tyler Gilbert to enter from the bullpen.
He retired seven batters in a row to start his outing until Jake Peevyhouse singled to right, sparking a rally.
Down 4-2, David Greer followed two batters later with a single, and Trever Allen drove in Peevyhouse with a single of his own. After a walk to Bielek, Gilbert was done and Brooks Kriske came in to face RJ Ybarra with the bases loaded. The rally was stymied, however, as Ybarra struck out looking to end the inning.
Seth Martinez was lifted in the seventh after a single to Bobby Stahel for Friday starter Brett Lilek. The first batter, Stubbs, attempted to lay down a sacrifice bunt in front of home. Cerbo threw down to second base and missed his target, leading to runners on second and third.
After Jeremey Martinez laid down another bunt, the dangerous Timmy Robinson was intentionally walked. Next, Dante Flores battled for nine pitches before hitting a chopper that deflected off of Lilek’s bare hand and ricocheted to Aboites at second, but he had no play. Lilek proceeded to walk in a run on a full count and two outs before he was pulled.
Smith, however, was optimistic about the potential for that situation to arise in the postseason. “That was good for him to come in there in something he’s not accustomed to, which is something we wanted to do. It was a ‘your team needs you’ and I thought he pitched well…I thought he did his job and put the team first and went out there and threw the baseball very very well.”
The 6-3 lead looked like it would be enough until the ninth, when Trever Allen started another rally with a single, followed by a single from Bielek. For Allen, that’s five straight multi-hit games going back to senior night against Washington State.
Ybarra followed by another strikeout; Cerbo beat out a potential game-ending double play; and Jordan Aboites represented ASU’s last hope. He clocked the first pitch he saw to deep left center, but Stahel made a remarkable catch going back and diving on the warning track to end the ballgame.
“If he pulls it, it’s certainly out. But good for him he put a good swing on it, Stahel made a great play on it. We’ll take our luck and we’ll take our big hits when it counts.”
You can reach the writer on twitter @Dom_Cotroneo