(Photo: Scotty Bara/WCSN)
Sundays in college baseball are known for offensive explosions.
The rubber match between No. 24 Arizona State and No. 19 Tennessee was not quite explosive, though a strong effort from the Volunteers’ bats led to 13 hits and six runs in a 6-4 victory over the Sun Devils to earn the series victory.
The Sun Devils opened the scoring for the third game in a row on R.J. Ybarra’s two-run home run in the first inning.
Ybarra drove in all four of his team’s runs, battling back from down two-strikes on multiple occasions. He explained after the game how he has been working on those situations since last season.
“It’s just a battle every pitch when I get to two strikes and that’s because of the hard work with coaches, talking to them and getting feedback from them. My approach is a little different there,” the sophomore catcher/designated hitter explained. “That’s what our goal was: to make me a tougher out, not an 0-1, 0-2 then see you later; (instead) its an 0-1, 0-2, get to a good count to try still get a good base hit and get a run in or whatever it may be in that situation.”
The homer would be the only hit Tennessee starting pitcher Kyle Serrano would allow, though three runs and three walks allowed contributed to his day being cut short after three innings of work. Josh Peterson earned the win after throwing 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Serrano
The Vols answered their next time up when Nate Maggio singled in Nick Senzel in the second to cut the lead to one. Maggio finished 3-4 with three singles, an RBI and a run scored.
Tennessee tied the game an inning later on Nick Senzel’s single to left field that scored Scott Price. Senzel led his team with two RBI in the win.
Vincent Jackson’s single to right in the next at-bat, with Senzel going first-to-third on the play, led to his stealing second base, which allowed Senzel to take home to give his team the lead, 3-2.
The three runs were all ASU starter Darin Gillies would surrender in his 4 1/3 innings of work. He struck out two and allowed seven hits.
Arizona State tied things in the bottom half of the inning with Johnny Sewald scoring on Ybarra’s groundout to shortstop.
The score remained knotted at three until the sixth inning when the Volunteers took the lead for good courtesy of Tyler Schultz’ groundout that plated Will Maddox. Taylor Smart singled in the following at-bat, scoring Maggio and stretching the lead to two.
Later in the frame, Nick Diamond relieved Eric Melbostad and hit the first batter he faced to load the bases. He then walked the next batter to put ASU down 6-3.
Melbostad was credited with all three runs and four hits in the sixth and was handed his first loss of the season.
The maroon and gold rallied with two outs in the seventh to cut their deficit to two on Ybarra’s second hit of the game, a single to center that plated Sewald. The rally was killed a batter later, however, when Nate Causey grounded out to end the threat, stranding two runners. The chance would be the closest the Sun Devils would get to tying the game.
The Volunteer bullpen was efficient for the third night in a row, as they held ASU to five hits and just a run over the game’s final six innings. Andy Cox earned the save for the Vols, his first of the season.
Tennessee relievers combined to throw 12 1/3 innings on the weekend and held ASU to just three runs. The Sun Devils feel, however, that their ineffectiveness against the bullpen had more to do with their own mistakes than the Vols’ dominance.
“We got a little exposed this weekend with some good pitching, some of our younger guys got exposed to being pitched to a little differently and they worked over there and developed a gameplan and those kids executed the gameplan and we didn’t handle it well,” ASU head coach Tim Esmay said after the game.
“I felt like we just allowed them to dictate the pace and the at-bats the last two days, really.”
This marks the second loss in a row for the Sun Devils and comes on the heel of five consecutive wins, including a win on Friday night to begin the series against the Volunteers. Their record now stands at 7-6, a mark that does not sit well in the clubhouse, although that does not mean anyone has going looking for the panic button just yet.
“It’s definitely frustrating because you’re in that locker room and you know you’re a lot better than you are. Things haven’t gone our way yet, we’re still gonna go relentlessly after a win every time we step on the field,” Ybarra said of the near-.500 record.
“It’s still early. Nobody’s panicking, nobody’s worried about it. Yeah, we’re frustrated that we’re 7-6 but its one of those things where we’re gonna get after it and go chase wins, we’re gonna go get them. It’s still early March right now, we’ll be fine.”
A tough weekend against a previously undefeated team will do some good for a growing Sun Devil team. After handing Tennessee their first loss of the season on Friday night, ASU had few answers for the adjustments the Vols made over the course of the rest of the series, something that, according to Esmay, will only help Arizona State.
“It does nothing but allow us to move forward, it does nothing but allow us to come back after this weekend and go, ‘Alright, what are guys doing to us? What adjustments are being made to us right now and how are we gonna combat that?’ And that’s on us to prepare for that and get our guys ready as we move forward,” Esmay explained.
ASU will move forward to their next matchup on Wednesday at home against New Mexico in what will be the two teams’ second mid-week meeting of the year. The game’s starters have yet to be announced.
First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.