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Lack of resolve, batting lead to 9-3 loss for Sun Devils

(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)

Arizona State head coach Tim Esmay preaches good at-bats and mental toughness to his players day-in and day-out. On this day, his team had neither in a 9-3 loss to Washington.

A six-run eighth inning for the Huskies broke a 3-3 tie and the Sun Devils could never recover as they fell to 1-1 in Pac-12 conference competition. Braden Bishop led the way for Washington with three hits and three RBI in the win.

Esmay was not-at-all pleased with his team’s effort at the plate, as they struggled all night to deliver with runners in scoring position. Something seemed to be awry in the dugout, as well, as he did not approve of how his team battled tonight.

“What we did tonight is not what I want Arizona State baseball to be,” Esmay said following the loss.

The Huskies earned the game’s first run after Andrew Ely tripled and Robert Pehl doubled to bring him home in the first inning. The run would be one of two ASU starter Ryan Kellogg would allow on the day. He threw five innings and gave up six hits in the no decision.

Both teams were kept off the board until the fourth when small ball from the Sun Devils, coupled with a bit of luck, brought across three runs.

Arizona State loaded the bases to start the inning after R.J. Ybarra singled, Dalton DiNatale doubled and David Graybill reached on an error. Christopher Beall followed with a sharp grounder to first that couldn’t be corralled, resulting in each runner moving up on the play, with Ybarra scoring.

Colby Woodmansee hit a sacrifice-fly to bring home DiNatale and David Greer singled to right to score Graybill and give ASU the 3-1 lead.

That would be all ASU could muster against Washington starter Tyler Davis, who went six strong innings, allowing eight hits and no earned runs. Troy Rallings notched his second win of the season on 2.1 scoreless innings of relief.

Esmay was not pleased with his lineup’s approach on the night.

“We didn’t do a very good job of attacking the baseball tonight,” Esmay said of his batters. He also wasn’t happy with the team’s inability to score with runners in scoring position.

“That’s not acceptable, thats not what we’re looking for, not when we’re trying to play team baseball.”

Washington responded with a run of their own in the fourth on Pehl’s sacrifice-fly that plated Erik Forgione. Their deficit remained at one until the seventh when Brian Wolfe hit a pinch-hit single, scoring Ely, one of his three runs, and bringing the Huskies even.

Jordan Aboites relieved Kellogg in the sixth and inherited two base-runners and no outs, though he was able to, with the help of some of his own defensive flashes of brilliance, neutralize the Huskies and get out of the inning unscathed.

Aboites, usually a shortstop, made his second mound appearance of the season and was solid. He remained in the game until the eighth, when poor defense from the Sun Devils met a barrage of hits from the Huskies, opening the floodgates.

After Aboites hit Austin Rei with a pitch, DiNatale committed two errors at third base to load the bases for Washington. Braden Bishop stepped up next and delivered with a bases clearing triple, breaking the tie and pushing his team ahead 6-3.

The errors highlighted the inning, though it was more of the mental side of the game that frustrated the Sun Devils’ manager.

“Errors are made, physical errors are made, (but the) mental stuff is the stuff that drives me nuts,” Esmay said. “From a mental standpoint, tonight we showed our immaturity. We showed our youngness tonight. We weren’t engaged in a Pac-12 fight.”

Bishop’s triple signaled the end of Aboites’ day. He surrendered five runs, three earned, on two hits in two-plus innings and was credited with the loss, his first of the season.

The hit parade continued as Ely doubled to bring home Bishop and extend the lead to four. Following an RBI single from Pehl, who finished with three RBI, Wolfe contributed his second RBI of the game on a single to right that scored Pehl and capped the Huskies lead at 9-3.

The huge inning for Washington was a culmination of the entire game for ASU, according to Esmay.

“I thought it was not well played by us at all. I thought we let them hang around and we didn’t engage, we didn’t push the envelope tonight,” the coach said. “The baseball gods will do that to you. To put it in a nutshell, that eighth inning is exactly how we played all game.”

“The way we played tonight, the way we didn’t swing the bats, all that, we’re gonna get what we deserve and we got what we deserved tonight.”

With Arizona State baseball alumni and MLB’s all-time home run leader, Barry Bonds, on hand to throw out the first pitch and talk with the team, it’s possible that shock-and-awe would lead to jitters for the Sun Devils. Coach Esmay would have none of that as an excuse, however.

“When the umpire says play ball, we gotta come out and play ball. No excuses on that,” he said.

A visibly displeased Esmay said he is looking ahead to tomorrow’s rubber match as a big rebound game for his ball-club, though he made it clear: given the way in which his team lost, tonight’s defeat is one that stings a little harder than usual.

“We’ll put (the loss) behind us when we go out there in batting practice tomorrow. I’m not gonna put it behind me until then,” the coach said.

The Sun Devils and Huskies meet for the series finale tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. Darin Gillies (1-1, 6.62 ERA) is scheduled to start for ASU and will be matched up against Jeff Brigham (3-0, 1.17) for Washington.

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