(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
Arizona State baseball lives for the ninth inning.
For the second time this season, the Sun Devils (28-15, 11-9) have pieced together a three-game streak of walk-off victories with tonight’s 9-8 win over Oregon (21-19, 9-11).
Due to some early pitching struggles, Tracy Smith’s team had to find a way to erase two separate deficits down 4-0 in the fifth and 7-3 in the sixth. For most of the game, Oregon continued to give the Sun Devils a glimpse of a comeback before regaining the lead.
“You’d prefer to not have to have that hill to climb,” Smith said. “We weren’t particularly sharp on the mound to start walking some guys, but I think what you look for in your team is a belief, you’re not going to do it every time, let’s face it, you’re not going to be able to comeback from every deficit, come back from every poor start but what you look for is a genuine belief in your team that they can.”
Eli Lingos got the nod on the mound to start the game – he lasted just 3.1 innings, yielding four runs (two earned), five hits and three walks to accompany three strikeouts.
While the offense got off to a similar slow start, the bats came alive when they needed to most.
The bat of David Greer led the way – Greer finished with game with a career-high five RBIs –but it ended up being a cast of unusual contributors who helped seal the victory.
After Andrew Shaps drew a walk to open the ninth, it was a sequence of pinch-hitting that won the day.
Ryan Lillard entered to pinch hit for R.J. Ybarra and moved Shaps to third via his fourth double of the season. Chris Beall, who has entered the batter’s box just 24 times this season, tapped a pitch back at Brac Warren.
Warren couldn’t handle the ball and Shaps scored the tying run.
With Lillard on the corner, it was then Jordan Aboites, a .143 hitter entering the contest, who drove him in and sealed the victory.
“This team has no quit,” Aboites said. “We’ve kind of been up-and-down all year in that sense and we never doubt ourselves, we just, in that last inning, kind of going in, we just wanted to give ourselves a chance to win, get the tying run on, once we did that we just kept rolling with it.”
The scenario and those involved might have been the least likely part in all of this, however, Smith believes the makeup of those involved in the ninth inning exemplify the prototypical mindset of a player on his team.
“I’ve been a part of teams where sometimes the older guys, if they’re not playing it’s tough,” Smith said. “So what I like about that [Beall and Aboites’ contribution] is just that this is a living example of just if you keep plugging and you keep going, so for me, it’s rewarding to see the senior guys, that maybe haven’t had all the accolades, come in there and help our team win.”
Plug along is exactly what this Sun Devil team, a team that started 1-6 in conference play, has continued to do en route to what is now an 11-9 conference record with the prospects of a third-consecutive series sweep riding on Sunday’s series finale.
Smith has said that freshman Zach Dixon will get the start in the final game.
“We’re not taking anything for granted, but I think what is most important to me is that we come out tomorrow with an attitude of we’re not satisfied,” Smith said. “We’re going to lay everything on the line and see what happens.”