(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
For Arizona State (11-3), it was a Tale of Two Cities type of contest. It was the best of times for the first eight innings, it was the worst of times for the ninth inning. The age of wisdom and foolishness balanced each other out in a 6-5 win over UC Davis (5-8).
Junior catcher Brian Serven knocked a two-out, walk-off single up the middle in the 11th inning to give the Sun Devils their sixth straight win. The fact that the maroon and gold were in that position seemed unfathomable heading into the ninth inning.
“That’s why you love this game because as long as you still have three outs left, anything can happen,” head coach Tracy Smith said after the game.
ASU was up 5-0, had only allowed six singles to UC Davis, had not allowed a runner to touch third base the entire game, yet allowed the Aggies to claw their way back to tying the game in the final frame.
Combined with the first four batters reaching base, a passed ball, an error, a couple more bloop hits, UC Davis made five runs appear out of thin air.
“I’m not mad at the guys, I’m not down at the guys, that was a crazy ninth inning. We were lucky, fortunately we won,” Smith said.
“Obviously there was a little bit of like a ‘Wow,’ like a shock factor,” Brian Serven said referring to the ninth inning. “But nobody gave up because we just played 14 innings against Fullerton…and we knew we still had a good chance to win in that game,” he continued.
The runs came off of relievers Gio Lopez, Eric Melbostad, and Eder Erives. The last three runs were unearned off Erives who inherited a tough situation.
And yet the Sun Devils might not have even been in that position if not for missed opportunities earlier in the game.
In the first inning, ASU had the bases loaded with one out and designated hitter Sebastian Zawada at the plate. He struck out swinging. Then Ryan Lillard quickly fell behind 0-2 and ultimately flied out to center field.
“Strikeouts are going to happen—it’s part of the game. But what I do care about is if it’s a selfish at bat,” Smith said. “Even if a guy strikes out I can tell the intent of whether they’re keeping their hands back…or are they just trying to see how far they can hit a ball. And I think that we did that and that’s the stuff that we cannot do.”
A bright spot offensively was Gage Canning’s performance. The true freshman has played in all 14 games and just collected his first two extra-base hits Friday night. The latter of the two was a bases-clearing, two out triple that brought in three runs.
“There was runners in scoring position and I was just really trying to get some runs in with two outs so we can get on the board and score some runs,” Canning said.
“[Canning’s] been struggling as of late…baseball’s a funny game—it can make you question yourself sometimes,” Smith said. “But a 3-for-3 performance can make you un-question yourself sometimes. So hopefully that gets him going because we’re going to need him.”
Eli Lingos turned in another quality start, tossing six scoreless innings and striking out five. He took the tough-luck no decision, but Smith called his performance “huge” taking the ball on short rest.
“He keeps doing that, I love it when guys get opportunities and perform like that,” Smith said.
In the seventh inning, the skipper began a lineup overhaul replacing five starters over the next two innings.
“You pick and choose your spots of when you try to rest and give some of your guys some time,” Smith said. “The way that game was going, I though we could do that. Well I guess as it turns out, we can’t.”
Smith was candid, yet poetic with the overall summation of the game: “Don’t you just love our game? The game of baseball.” He told a story to the team about his alma mater (Miami of Ohio) down 12 runs in the ninth inning of a game, but ultimately scoring 13 runs before their second out.
“So baseball is a funny, funny game.”
Tomorrow ASU looks for its seventh win in a row and will give the ball to junior Seth Martinez at 6:30 MST.
You can follow the writer on Twitter @Dom_Cotroneo