First year head coach Tracy Smith has put an emphasis on digging out wins in close ball games this season, and Thursday's series opener at Utah was no exception.
Arizona State finally broke through against a stout Ute bullpen in the top of the 12th, getting a two run homer off the bat of Andrew Snow to put the Sun Devils ahead 5-3. Southpaw Eli Lingos then retired the home team in order to close out the win, giving the maroon and gold one of their most hard fought victories so far in 2015.
The Utes may have entered the contest as a heavy underdog, but they were given a big shot of confidence after jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the second inning. Arizona State starter Seth Martinez hung a 2-1 pitch that AJ Young jumped all over, lifting the ball over the wall in left field to draw first blood for Utah.
Wasting no time getting on the comeback trail, the Sun Devils battled back in the top of the third, getting the tying run after a double by Joey Bielek and an RBI groundout from Snow. Martinez, however, would continue to struggle in the bottom half of the inning, giving the lead back after allowing a pair of singles.
Now working with a 2-1 lead and having recorded two quick outs to open the fourth, it appeared as if Ute starter Nolan Stouder was settling into a nice groove. His third baseman would change that in a hurry.
An error on a routine grounder allowed David Greer to reach safely, and Brian Serven tied the game up once again with a single to left field after Greer stole second to get into scoring position.
The game remained tied at two until the eighth inning, when Snow would once again work some magic. The freshman worked a one out walk, then moved all the way to third on a single from Johnny Sewald. Utah head coach Bill Kinneberg then decided it was time to make a move to the bullpen, ushering in senior right-hander Brock Duke.
The decision was not a good one. A wild pitch uncorked by Duke allowed Snow to score easily from third, giving the maroon and gold a 3-2 lead.
This time, however, it was the Utes' turn to mount a comeback. Facing closer Ryan Burr in the bottom of the ninth, they got their first two batters on base via a hit batsmen and bunt single. Burr got the next hitter to go down swinging, but a squeeze play by Young caught the Arizona State defense by surprise and brought home the tying run from third.
The bottom of the 10th was not any easier for Burr. A throwing error by Snow at second allowed the leadoff man to advance all the way to second, and a sacrifice bunt moved the winning run to within 90 feet with just one out. The next two batters were both intentionally walked, and Burr, who always has had a flair for the dramatic, got back-to-back strikeouts to escape the jam and keep the Sun Devils alive.
After a quiet 11th frame, Trever Allen looked to spark a rally with a leadoff single in the top of the 12th. Bielek struck out after that, and that brought the man of the night up to the plate.
Snow got a 1-1 pitch he liked, smoking the ball through the frigid 35 degree air. All the Utes could do was watch the ball sail across the fence, putting a dagger into their hopes of pulling a big upset to open the three game series.
Arizona State improved to 20-7 (8-2) with the win, while Utah dropped to 9-18 (3-7). The Sun Devils will look to clinch a series victory tomorrow night, returning to action at 5:00 PM. Junior lefty Ryan Kellogg will get the start on the mound for the maroon and gold.