With two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning and the go-ahead run standing 90 feet away for Cal State Fullerton, Sun Devil coach Tracy Smith made a decision that would end up changing the course of the entire regional.
Wanting to desperately win Saturday's game and avoid the godforsaken loser's bracket, Smith opted to burn his starter for game three in an attempt to escape the jam. Brett Lilek got Arizona State out of the inning, and the rest of his pitching staff eventually got out of seven more frames before the night was over.
The maroon and gold's high-wire act eventually caught up to them in the 14th, when the Titans loaded the bases and walked off into the regional final via a four pitch walk from reliever Eder Erives.
Smith gambled and came up empty. That's baseball.
The outlook was much brighter for the Sun Devils five hours earlier. Leadoff man Johnny Sewald started the game with a long double off Golden Spikes Award semifinalist Thomas Eshelman, and he came around to score on a throwing error by the Fullerton catcher.
Eshelman's troubles continued in the top of the second when Andrew Snow hit a deep, two out homer over the left field wall, shocking the host school as it found itself in an early 2-0 hole.
The Titans are not ones to go down easily, however, and the club battled back to cut the deficit in the half on a Timmy Richards RBI single in the bottom half of the inning. The run was just one of two starting pitcher Seth Martinez was charged with on Saturday.
The other came in the aforementioned sixth frame, on a base hit from David Olmedo-Barrera off of relief pitcher Darin Gillies (who had inherited Martinez's base runner). An intentional walk followed, and that's where Lilek entered the equation. The lefty was able to induce a ground ball to third, which Jordan Aboites took care of to preserve the 2-2 tie.
That tie would be preserved for awhile.
It looked as if the home team was going to grab the lead in the bottom of the eighth when Tanner Pinkston hit a slow-rolling grounder to the hole between second and short with the bases loaded. But once again, Aboites had other plans.
Charging the ball like there was no tomorrow, he cut off the shortstop and grabbed the ball, throwing to first all in the same motion. The ball beat Pinkston to the bag, ending the inning and the threat.
After a relatively quiet ninth, the maroon and gold were relieved to see Eshelman exit the game after over 140 pitches at the start of extra innings. They loaded the bases and gave Joey Bielek a chance to pick up a go-ahead run in the 10th, but the first baseman went down on strikes and the game remained tied.
Both offenses quieted down after that, every chance at breaking the stalemate being wasted by too many watched strike threes. It wasn't until the 14th that things got wild (both literally and figuratively), as the right-handed Erives entered the early morning drama.
The sophomore made his first appearance since being struck in the face with a line drive earlier in the month at New Mexico, and he struggled mightily on his return to the mound. Fullerton loaded the bases without recording a hit, getting the job done through a pair of walks and a hit by pitch.
A rattled Erives then threw four consecutive balls to the final batter of the game, the final two pitches not coming anywhere near the strike zone. The walk-off walk handed the Titans a 3-2 win, sending Arizona State to Sunday afternoon's elimination game against Pepperdine.
ASU struck out 20 times, a school record, against Cal State Fullerton.
Erives (1-1) was charged with the loss, while usual closer Tyler Peitzmeir (3-3) earned the win for the No. 1 seed. The senior southpaw worked five innings on Saturday without allowing a run.
While Fullerton managed to only throw two pitchers throughout the entire game, the Sun Devils were not as fortunate. Six men ended up working the critical contest, with Martinez, Lilek, and Ryan Burr all throwing at least 40 pitches. Those three figure to be out for Sunday's action.
The long day will begin at 4:00 p.m., and Arizona State will be back in action at 8:00 p.m. if it were to advance and meet Cal State Fullerton again. At that point it would take two victories against the Titans to advance to a Super Regional.