(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
Once considered dead in the water sitting at next-to-last in the Pac-12 standings, Arizona State continued its uphill climb towards a potential NCAA tournament appearance Friday night when it defeated the Oregon Ducks 5-4 in 12 innings on a walk-off sacrifice fly by Brian Serven.
Sun Devil ace Seth Martinez took the hill to open the series, and battled his way through eight innings, scattering six hits and allowing four runs. While it might not have been the most dominant appearance from the junior, he was bailed out by a sudden power surge from his teammates. Gage Canning, Colby Woodmansee and Sebastian Zawada all homered, the latter two bringing ASU back from a three-run deficit in the eighth inning.
Sun Devil head coach Tracy Smith said after the game that it is just as crucial for Martinez to pitch effectively as it is for the offense to do their part in bailing out their pitcher.
“(Martinez has) done what he’s done every single Friday for us and given us a chance to win,” Smith said. “You’re never out of it with power. And we’ve been a little inconsistent early in the year on the power piece of it, but we felt like going into the year we were going to have power. If he can hold us in there and keep it at three, which he did… was perfect.”
Martinez gave way in the 9th inning to Eder Erives, who pitched four scoreless innings and was able to work his way out of some crucial jams, most notably in the 12th when he was able to field a slowly-hit grounder back to the mound and flip the ball to Serven before Ducks’ center fielder Austin Grebeck could score.
Serven applauded Erives’ approach of using his entire repertoire effectively.
“He did well what he always does well,” Serven said. “He threw his fastball for strikes, breaking ball for strikes, and then when he needs to he’ll drop that changeup in there too. I think he just kept guys off-balance. His first time through I think he didn’t even throw a changeup, and then later on he started using that more and he was just throwing every pitch in and out of the zone when he needed to.”
Emotions were certainly running high for both teams starting a crucial conference series, and emotions boiled over for Smith in the 10th inning when he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes with home plate umpire Jeff Henrichs.
Smith praised his club for the way that they responded all night, before and after his ejection.
“That pitching staff that (Oregon) threw out there was phenomenal, and to figure out a way to get it done against those guys I just love,” Smith said. “It’s kind of a microcosm of how this team is coming together. It’s just, ‘Let’s find a way to win, somehow, someway.’ It doesn’t really matter who, it doesn’t really matter how.”
With the victory the Sun Devils moved to 10-9 in Pac-12 play, placing them just 1.5 games behind conference leading Utah, which was idle on Friday night.
Serven said that getting the first win of the series is a huge step for ASU as it heads into the final four weekends of the regular season in its push for a NCAA tournament berth.
“Getting that Friday night win is always huge, I think everyone knows that,” Serven said.”It just makes it a little bit more of a sweeter feeling getting that win Friday night, but the weekend’s clearly not over. With where we are in the Pac-12 and where we are in the season, we need every game.”