ASU's trip to the Fullerton, California Regional marked the school's 39th post season appearance, and the long journey began with a 4-3 win over New Mexico.
Defensive mistakes and expertise decided today's outcome. The Lobos had three errors, resulting in three unearned runs and a gigantic migraine for manager Ray Birmingham. Conversely, the Sun Devils consistently posted ESPN Web Gem type of plays.
"Three errors, which is very uncharacteristic by us, the mistakes I saw were about people who got emotional about the moment," New Mexico coach Ray Birmingham said.
Sun Devil star and third baseman Michael Benjamin may be known best for his excellent hitting, but he made a few key stops in the field that exemplified a well-rounded effort. Benjamin was able to make tough plays appear routine, from gunning down lead runners to diving stops.
"Two of his (Benjamin's) plays were game-changers today, and it allowed them to not get the next hitter up," ASU skipper Tim Esmay said. "They hit some balls hard but we didn't open up a crack defensively, and that was the difference today."
New Mexico jumped out to an early 1-0 lead via Mitch Garver's RBI single in the opening frame. Tim Esmay's squad responded quickly, as James McDonald's RBI sacrifice fly drove in Case Koffman, tying the score at one to close the first inning.
Throughout the remainder of the contest both teams went blow for blow, especially pitchers Trevor Williams and Josh Walker. Williams rarely seemed comfortable, yet the highly touted ace found a way to successfully navigate through a dangerous Lobos offense and get his first victory since April.
"I wouldn't say he (Williams) had his best stuff tonight, but he is such a top tier pitcher," New Mexico catcher Mitch Garver said. "He did well locating his fastballs and working his off speed. He has good arm action so the ball is going to naturally have sink."
Walker, the Lobos starter, had a solid showing of 7 1/3 innings and only allowed one earned run.
The game-changing event came at the hands of ASU second baseman James McDonald, who blasted a two-run home run in the bottom of the 5th inning to grab a 4-2 lead.
"I was looking for one (a fastball) on the inner half and he gave it to me," McDonald said. "The rest happened, he gave me what I wanted."
Despite New Mexico's clutch performance by catcher Mitch Garver, the team could never came back. Garver went 2-3 and had a solo shot of his own in the 8th inning, cutting the deficit to 4-3.
Before the playoffs started, ASU sported a 28-0 record when leading after eight innings, thanks to stud freshman closer Ryan Burr. The streak is now at 29-0 after Burr sat down the heart of the order to secure the victory.
"It was fun more than anything, that's the kind of matchup you dream of," Burr said. "I'm just excited about the next game."
Looking ahead, ASU plays the winner of the matchup between top-seeded Cal State Fullerton and Columbia tomorrow night at 8 p.m.
"We came here to play well, and so this is one," Esmay said. "We will go to go back to the hotel and watch this game with some serious eyes and then get ready for tomorrow night."