There were home runs and big strikeouts. There was an early deficit and a late comeback. But at the end of Saturday's series opener between Arizona and Arizona State, all that was left was Jake Peevyhouse at the plate with the bases loaded and a full count.
In a season that has become known for its heart-stopping finishes, it only made sense that the team's most important game thus far would come down to the final pitch.
That final pitch was laced into right field by Peevyhouse, the ball rolling all the way to the warning track as the Wildcat outfielder had given up on the play as soon as the ball hit the ground. The single marked the Sun Devils' fifth walk-off victory of the season, giving the team a 5-4 win to open this year's Territorial Cup series.
"I knew he had to throw something over the dish, so I was just looking for something up," Peevyhouse said. "All the pressure was on him, so I was not worried."
The pressure was actually on the Maroon and Gold early on. Arizona jumped out to a 3-0 advantage in the fourth inning, getting to starting pitcher Seth Martinez for a walk, two singles, and one big double. The scoring binge began when an Arizona State fan down the third base line appeared to take away what should have been an easy catch for David Greer, and the Wildcats would end up plating three runs by the time the inning was over.
With more than half the game still to play, however, it was not time to worry about the early deficit. The home team battled back for a run in the bottom half of the frame on an RBI single from Trever Allen, but a 4-6-3 double play got Arizona out of a big jam.
"We prepare throughout the week to just do what we do," coach Tracy Smith said on the comeback attempt. "I told them let's keep playing baseball and they did a great job of that."
Better baseball was played in the fifth inning when the two men at the bottom of the order reached on a leadoff single and a double down the left field line. Johnny Sewald then pulled ASU within a run on a sacrifice fly, and Peevyhouse gave his team their first lead of the game with a two run bomb just over the wall in left field.
"I'm glad he didn't rob it because it was close," said Peevyhouse. "I will trade home runs for hits all day though."
Determined not to go quietly into the night, the Wildcats struck back in the seventh inning and pulled even at four. The decision by head coach Andy Lopez to call for a sacrifice bunt with one out ended up paying off big time as the tying run was able to score from second on a ball to left field. Reliever Eder Erives was able to strand the go-ahead run in scoring position though, striking out Kevin Newman to end the inning.
A scoreless eighth inning then paved the way for Peevyhouse's ninth inning heroics. A pair of one out singles from Joey Bielek and Andrew Snow got the rally started, and the bases were then loaded on a five pitch walk to Sewald. Freshman reliever Cameron Ming then continued struggling to throw strikes, starting Peevyhouse's at-bat with three consecutive balls.
The southpaw was able to keep the game alive with a couple of pitches that just barely caught the outside corner, but his next pitch would end up being the one to do him in. Peevyhouse took advantage of a ball left up in the zone, spraying it to shallow left field to set off a wild celebration inside Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
"I would give half of this win to the ASU baseball team, and the other half to the crowd," Smith said about the 6,247 fans in attendance, the most at an Arizona State home game since 1982.
The Sun Devils improved to 22-9 (10-3) with the win, while Arizona dropped to 22-10 (7-6). The two teams will be back at it tomorrow at 5:00 PM for game two of their three game set. Junior left-hander Ryan Kellogg is slated to start on the mound for Arizona State.