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ASU baseball: Bullpen falters as Sun Devils drop series finale, series to Tennessee

Eric Melbostad gave up three runs in the sixth inning to pick up his first loss of the season.

R.J. Ybarra (right) hit his first home run of the season and drove in four runs in the loss.
R.J. Ybarra (right) hit his first home run of the season and drove in four runs in the loss.
(Danny Shapiro/House of Sparky)

For the first time this season, ASU baseball lost on a Sunday.

The No. 24 Sun Devils (7-6) couldn't capitalize on an early lead, falling 6-3 to No. 21 Tennessee to drop their first series of the season.

"We jumped out 2-0 and couldn't back up any more pressure the rest of the game," Sun Devil coach Tim Esmay said. "We just really didn't do things to force them to have to make an adjustment."

Sophomore catcher R.J. Ybarra gave the Sun Devils the early lead, skying his first home run of the season-a two-run shot-over the left-field wall.

Junior pitcher Darin Gillies allowed one run in the second and two in the third, but it was Ybarra who again provided the offense, bringing home a run in the third on a groundout to the shortstop to even the score.

Gillies, making his first Sunday start of the season, allowed just three runs in 4.1 innings but the bullpen couldn't back him up.

Sophomore Eric Melbostad replaced Gillies and ran into trouble in the sixth inning, allowing four hits and three runs to the Volunteers (14-1), to break the tie and give the Volunteers the lead for good.

Esmay said Melbostad (1-1), who had been pitching well all season, just didn't execute correctly.

"They just took good swings on him," Esmay said. "They hit him."

Ybarra tried once more to will the Sun Devils back into the game with a two-out RBI single in the seventh inning, but it wasn't enough.

"We didn't have very good at-bats today," Esmay said. "I mean it was a 6-4 game but I really never felt like we put any pressure on them at all."

The Sun Devils managed just six hits against four Volunteer pitchers and Esmay thought his younger hitters were exposed by the

Ybarra, who finished with a season-high four RBIs, was impressed with the Volunteer pitching all weekend.

"They just hit their spots," Ybarra said. "Tough pitches, pitches we couldn't handle very well. Guys came out of the bullpen were good."

The Sun Devils host New Mexico on Wednesday then open conference play next Friday at Packard against Washington.

Ybarra believed the weekend helped the Sun Devils and will help them moving forward during Pac-12 play.

"Nobody's panicking, nobody's worrying about it," Ybarra said. "We're frustrated that we're 7-6 but we're going to go after it and chase wins. It's still early March so we will be good."