Bullpen Struggles Late as BYU Tops Devils, 4-2
PHOENIX – Sun Devil Baseball dropped its first game of the series against BYU, 4-2, on Thursday evening at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
After a pitcher's duel through the first four innings, Sean McLain got the scoring started in the fifth inning when he extended his hitting streak to four games. His chopper up the middle plated the first run of the game and he would eventually score on a wild pitch to give ASU a 2-0 advantage through five.
After the Sun Devils scored the first runs of the game, BYU answered back in the top of the sixth inning with a run but ASU held firm to maintain the lead until the eighth inning. Kyle Luckham earned the start and didn't allow any runs in 5.0 innings pitched, striking out five and walking none while holding BYU to 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position. Jacob Walker settled in after some early hiccups in his appearance to maintain the hold on a 2-1 ASU lead through seven innings.
The command issues would inevitably prove to be the difference in the late game as ASU walked five batters in the final two frames after not walking any through the first seven. Those walks would prove costly and the difference in the game, as the Cougars were able to capitalize on the free passes given in the ninth inning to score the go-ahead runs.
ASU scattered eight hits on the night, but had only two runs to show for it and went just 2-for-12 with runners on the basepath.
For the most part, the Sun Devil pitching staff was able to get itself out of jams, holding BYU to 1-for-15 hitting with runners in scoring position and stranding nine runners.
Holding on to a 2-1 lead, the Sun Devils got a rare shaky outing from closer Will Levine, who walked the bases loaded with one out. Despite that, Levine got a huge strikeout for the second out, but a passed ball would allow a runner to score and tie the game. It was the first of a series of late miscues for the Sun Devils. After Christian Bodlovich got out of the inning to keep things tied, ASU got a two-out double from Jacob Tobias in the bottom of the frame to bring up the team's hottest hitter in Nate Baez. But pinch runner Alex Champagne got stuck in no man's land and picked off at second to end the inning with no damage done.
THE BIG MOMENT
The Cougars got their first lead of the game in the ninth inning, when they started a rally with a leadoff double, followed by two walks to load the bases with one out. A ground ball was hit to McLain but a slow exchange from McLain to Haas allowed the batter to reach safely instead of an inning-ending double play with the runner scoring from third.
THE FINAL STRAW
Things were still in the balance at just one run but a soft grounder in the shallow infield proved just out of reach of a diving Conor Davis and ASU couldn't make the play at first, allowing another run to score and sucking the wind out of the Devils. Despite the two runs coming from BYU in the ninth inning, Arizona State looked like it was about to begin a ninth-inning rally with a Nate Baez leadoff single, but the Sun Devils had nothing to show for after that, despite Ethan Long - who arrived to the game late after battling a stomach illness all day - coming into the game to pinch hit to try and save the day. Long put a good stroke on one, but the dead, chilly air at Phoenix Municipal Stadium wasn't having it and the well-struck ball found the center fielder's glove for the final out at the warning track.
- Arizona Diamondbacks legend Luis Gonzalez threw out the first pitch for the Sun Devils.
- Tobias' eighth-inning double extended his hitting streak to the longest of his career at four games.
- Baez extended his reached base streak to three games with his two hits.
- The Sun Devils only had one walk on the evening while striking out nine times, while the Cougars drew five walks - all in the final two innings of the game.
- Christian Bodlovich stranded two batters in the eighth inning and has now stranded all five baserunners he has inherited this season. It brought his career total to 27 baserunners inherited with just five scoring (18.5 percent).
- Seven different Sun Devils recorded hits, but ASU again struggled to find the timely hit, dropping to 10-of-51 hitting (.196) on the season with runners in scoring position.
- Free bases have undone the Sun Devils this season with 11 of the 21 runs scored against ASU this season (52.4 percent) only being on the base path due to a walk, hit by pitch or error.
The Cougars began the hitting with a two-out double but had nothing to show for after that.
BYU loads the bases with lead-off back-to-back singles and a HBP, but a strikeout and a 6-4-3 double play strands the bases loaded for the Cougars.
The Cougars added another double but were still 0-6 with RISP. Haas was HBP with one out, but the Sun Devils had nothing to show for it.
Joshua Cowden hit a single and took second base on a wild pitch but would get doubled off of a lineout to Kai Murphy, who made the play in shallow right and made the easy throw to Haas at second while Cowden was rounding third expecting the ball to drop.
Luckham had his first three-up, three-down inning as he struck out the first two batters of the inning, then finished it off by taking a ground ball himself and passing it over to Conor Davis at first base. ASU finally got on the board as McLain had the first RBI of the game.
BYU clapped back with a run of their own, taking advantage of HBP by Cole Gambill who would later come in with a wild pitch by Jacob Walker.
Walker settled in to go three-up, three-down to open up the seventh inning. The ASU bats go down silently as well.
Will Levine struggled with his command, walking the bases loaded with one out. The junior closer would get a huge strikeout but a passed ball allowed the tying run to come home on the play. Jacob Tobias had a nice opposite-field double down the left-field line, but pinch-runner, Alex Champagne got caught in the moment and was immediately picked off to end the inning.
The Cougars were able to capitalize on some free passes in the ninth inning to complete the comeback. ASU had a shot with a leadoff single from Baez but couldn't muster any more than that as BYU's Reid McLaughlin earned his third save in five games for the Cougars.
Sun Devil Baseball will look to even the series tomorrow with the game getting underway at 7 p.m. AZT. The contest will be broadcast on Pac-12 Arizona with Dominic Cotroneo on the call. The game will also be available over the airwaves on 1060 KDUS AM with Jeff Munn and Max Rossiter. LHP Adam Tulloch will take the mound for the Devils against RHP Janzen Keisel. Neither pitcher allowed a run in their first starts this season.