(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
On a stormy midweek night that had all the makings of a trap game–a 30-minute rain delay to commence and a five-inning lull that saw the Sun Devils squander a 2-1 lead–Arizona State persevered and took down New Mexico 4-3, improving its record to 13-6 on the season.
Half of ASU’s runs were a direct result of first baseman Joey Bielek’s hitting heroics tonight, as he racked up three hits and two RBI in the game–one of which was his tie-breaking run-scoring single in the bottom of the eighth inning to help his team get the victory.
“The main thing was I pulled my hands in, I thought they were going to come inside fastball and that’s what I was kind of looking at and so I just stayed tight on that one,” Bielek said. “The whole time I was just trying to put the ball in play and just poke something hard and have a good at-bat to give us a chance.”
The Sun Devils got on the board first, capitalizing on New Mexico pitcher Mike Gould’s leadoff walk to centerfielder Johnny Sewald. Sewald then reached home after a steal and two ground-outs to give the Sun Devils an early 1-0 lead.
ASU was able to notch two more runs in the bottom of the second when it made Gould pay for another lead-off walk to right fielder Trever Allen. Catcher Brian Serven and first baseman Joey Bielek were able to string together a pair of singles through the left side, plating Allen.
ASU would tack one more before the end of the inning, as Serven reached the home on a sac fly from David Greer, making the score 3-0 ASU.
On the mound, this matchup was not backed by strong starting pitching on either team, but rather was characterized by short spurts of success that were then soiled by costly mistakes. Both teams burned through their respective bullpens tonight, as the two teams combined for a total of nine pitching changes. The first replacements came remarkably early as James Harrington replaced Gould for New Mexico after two innings, and Eric Melbostad replaced Ryan Hingst for ASU after three.
“I just didn’t think he looked really sharp,” Smith said. “We wanted to get Eric in the game and I just didn’t like that Ryan was pitching at the belt. I thought the three innings he did okay, but I thought it was the perfect opportunity to make me put Melbostad in the game because if I waited later maybe I would’ve gotten cold feet. I’m sure glad I put Eric in the game.”
Melbostad settled in quickly in his first outing of the season, claiming back-to-back 1-2-3 innings in the fourth and fifth frames. Harrington was successful early on as well, going two innings without giving up a hit and answering with a 1-2-3 inning of his own in the bottom of the fifth.
It was in the top of the sixth, however, that ASU paid for issuing a leadoff walk of its own.
New Mexico pinch-hitter Ryan Padilla came to the plate with shortstop Dalton Bowers on third and promptly hit a sac-fly to center field, putting his team on the board and cutting the ASU lead to 3-1.
It was in the top of the seventh inning that ASU’s dominant control of the game would start to disintegrate. Darin Gillies was called upon to pitch his team out of danger with two outs and two men in scoring position.
What happened instead was a two-RBI single by New Mexico first baseman Jack Zoellner, which knotted the game at three.
“It’s frustrating because if we would just extend the lead that becomes a different ballgame. Honestly we’ve done that a lot this year where we have a chance to put teams away and we don’t do it,” Smith said. “It cost us in the Cal State Bakersfield game when we let them hang around, they pop one out with the wind and next thing you know you lose the game. Tonight could have had the same result. It didn’t because fortunately we’ve been in so many games like this our guys just keep their composure and keep battling as witnessed by Joey’s big two-out hit.”
When the Lobos couldn’t make anything happen in the top of the eighth it was Bielek who came to the plate and broke the tie. With two outs and Colby Woodmansee in scoring position after his leadoff single, Bielek singled to left-center to score Woodmansee and put his team back up one going into the ninth.
“This game’s about confidence and he’s really playing confidently right now. He had three hits and the big one today so hopefully he can carry that on into the weekend because we need some production out of that first base spot,” coach Tracy Smith said.
Ryan Burr would get the nod to close out the game. While an early error and single made it look like the Lobos were about to make their second comeback on the night, a calm, cool and collected Burr induced a groundout, stranding the tying run at third and the go-ahead run at first.
The Sun Devils now head to Eugene, Oregon to take on the No. 15 Ducks in what will be ASU’s first road series of the 2015 season.
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