Tough pill to swallow
Some losses hurt a lot more than others.
For ASU, dropping a game in which it led 7-0 and stranded the winning run at third base in consecutive extra innings will certainly leave a bad taste in their mouths.
Stanford roared back from the early deficit, forcing extra innings and using a three-run 12th inning to even the series with an 11-9 victory Saturday night.
“Every pitch matters. We made enough mental mistakes tonight to lose the game,” head coach Tracy Smith said. “We were not real smart tonight, and when you take pitches off in this conference, it will cost you.”
Stanford finally got to ASU reliever Will Levine in the 12th, his fifth inning of work. A leadoff double was followed by a walk, and an RBI single quickly put the Cardinal on top as Kody Huff plated Drew Bowser for what proved to be the winning run.
When the dust settled and Levine trudged towards the home dugout, Stanford had taken a commanding three-run lead.
A two-out rally in the bottom half gave ASU hope, but a baserunning error by Sean McLain allowed Stanford to end the threat and secure the comeback win.
“I love the way Will competed the entire way, made big pitch after big pitch,” Smith said. “He ends up with a loss but it’s a tough one because I loved how he competed for us tonight.”
Sun Devil starter Justin Fall has been one of ASU’s most reliable starting arms in a season that has seen three of his teammates go under the knife for Tommy John surgery. Through the first three innings of Saturday’s contest, Fall was magnificent.
The redshirt junior southpaw easily navigated his first turn through the Cardinal lineup, but ran into a brick wall in the fourth. A leadoff single and two walks loaded the bases with nobody out.
Fall’s night officially went from dominance to doom when Bowser took a 1-0 fastball and skied a fly ball into deep right field. What looked potentially harmless off the bat quickly got caught in the left to right field wind, and barely cleared the wall for a grand slam.
Fall’s outing would end two pitches later, when Vincent Martinez got in on the long ball party, belting a solo shot of his own to right.
“When we got the seven-run lead, he was a different pitcher,” Smith said of Fall. “We don’t get do-overs in sports, but if he had it over again his mentality would be different. He’ll learn from it and not let that happen again.”
Lost in the drama of Friday night’s win was the end of McLain’s incredible 23-game hitting streak.
McLain wasted no time starting a new one in the first inning Saturday night, as he followed a Hunter Jump hit-by-pitch with a loud double, scoring Jump from first and setting the tone for a night full of runs.
Freshman Jack Moss pounded a double of his own just two pitches later, and Hunter Haas made it a three-run frame with a two out RBI single to plate Moss.
ASU built a commanding lead in the home half of the third. The freshmen flexed their muscles yet again, as Haas and Ethan Long each drove in runs with a single and a double, respectively.
Later in the inning, catcher Sam Ferri drove a fastball to right, sneaking it over the wall down the line for his second big fly of the year, putting the Sun Devils up 7-0.
As he has done routinely all season long, Smith dipped into his bullpen often during the middle innings. He used a combination of Brock Peery, Christian Bodlovich and Cam Dennie to bridge the gap between Fall and the eventual long man, Levine.
Called upon with one out in the seventh inning, Levine took the Sun Devils the rest of the way in a rare long relief appearance from the ASU staff.
While he allowed Stanford to score the game’s tying runs in the eighth inning, both were unearned. He was masterful until the 12th, putting up five innings and striking out four.
The rubber match of the series is set for 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. ASU will try to bounce back with Tyler Thornton on the mound.
“You need to have a short memory whether you win or lose,” Smith said. “We’ll have a tough road tomorrow because we fired a lot of our bullets tonight in the bullpen, but we’ll embrace that challenge just like we have every one.”
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