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ASU Baseball: Bueno returns, but Sun Devils upended in 16-7 loss to Utah

The Sun Devils weren't able to make Hever Bueno's return a memorable outing on Saturday.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

"That's not a strike in Arizona!"

A fan's poignant reaction to one of the 97 pitches of 232 thrown that wasn't called a strike during the Arizona State Sun Devils' 16-7 series finale loss to the Utah Utes on Saturday.

"That's your fault, blue!"

The subsequent reaction to a Utah score which epitomized a sentiment shared by a majority of the 2,493 fans in attendance at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. The run gave the Utes a 3-2 advantage; an advantage they would increase, lose, then rally to regain by the end of the matchup.

"Credit (Utah)," ASU coach Tracy Smith said. "They came out, they were still swinging, they were still battling. I was happy with the way we came back, just not how we closed it out."

Less than 24 hours after one of the most sensational pitching performances in team history, the Sun Devils (14-9, 1-5 Pac-12) were supposed to enjoy another special day on the mound with the return of Opening Night starter Hever Bueno.

Instead, the Utes (8-13, 4-2 Pac-12) made the day as long as possible for their opponent. The ASU pitching staff combined to relinquish 16 runs on 23 hits, with 10 different players receiving action on the mound, with the longest stretch lasting just three innings.

Still, prior to the "you suck, blue!" chants, the Sun Devils' day started on the right foot.

In Bueno's first appearance since suffering a right arm strain, he struck out the first two batters he faced, claiming the last out of the segment via strikeout, too.

"Realistically, we were looking at 30 pitches or so," Smith said. "Our plan was to get him back out on the diamond this weekend, and out on the mound this weekend. With the way that it went last night, our thought was it's a great way to get him out there at the beginning of the game."

ASU got on the board first thanks to an RBI-triple by David Greer in the bottom of the frame. Shortstop Colby Woodmansee followed suit, dribbling a infield RBI-single down the third-base line to give the Sun Devils a 2-0 lead.

However, the Utes quickly responded during the bottom of the second frame, and Bueno's success was short-lived.

He began the second inning with a walk, and on the following at-bat began to lose control. Smith decided to lift his starter in favor of right-hander James Ryan.

"We made the decision (to pull him) after I saw that first pitch in the second," Smith said. "He did what he was supposed to do today."

After allowing the runner he inherited from Bueno to score, Ryan allowed two runners to reach home on a one-out RBI single, and Utah claimed its first lead of the day.

Ryan was pulled after recording two outs, and was replaced by Fitz Stadler in the same inning. Stadler nearly conceded another run had an assist from right-fielder Gage Canning not caught an advancing runner trying to reach home.

Eder Erives would enter the game for Stadler, managing 3.0 innings while allowing three earned runs on four hits and one strikeout. Erives would give way to Tyler Baca, who only recorded one out before being substituted for Eli Lingos.

Starting with a three-run fifth inning, the Sun Devils offense began a 5-0 scoring run, providing the very spark the team needed.

In the bottom of the sixth, catcher Brian Serven struck an RBI-double to center field, plating center fielder Andrew Shaps to tie the contest at 6-6. Greer ensued that with an RBI-double of his on in the seventh, giving ASU a 7-6 lead after trailing 6-2 just a half hour before.

The jeers had suddenly morphed from chastising referees, to galvanized support of the players, with fans cheering "A-S-U! A-S-U! A-S-U!" in unison.

Still in possession of a one-run lead during the top of the eighth, Smith replaced Lingos on the mound with Greer, who had already shifted from first base to third during the tilt.

Greer surrendered a walk, putting runners on the corners with one out. He then relinquished back-to-back RBI singles to Utah's DeShawn Keirsey, Jr. and A.J. Young, and the Utes regained the advantage, 8-7.

Smith made another change on the mound, inserting Eric Melbostad into the game for Greer in hopes of getting out of the inning. Melbostad struck out the first batter he faced, then beamed the next, loading the bases with two outs.

Utes infielder Dallas Carroll singled down the third-base line, and a throwing error to first enabled two more runs to cross the plate, pushing Utah's advantage to 10-7.

With Reagan Todd pitching in the ninth, the Utes would tack on six more runs for insurance, giving Utah a comfortable 16-7 lead as they cruised to a victory.

The Sun Devils had fell just as quickly as they had rallied. The pitching staff combined to concede 11 two-out runs batted in while allowing Utah batters to go 14-for-21 (.667) with two outs. Greer (1-1) was credited with the loss.

The inexperience of the staff was on full display and something Smith has acknowledged will be something the group must find a way to overcome in order to win future games.

"I don't like it. (The players) don't like it. I'm sure fans don't like it," Smith said of the result slipping away. "But it's where we are right now. We've got a lot of work to do to get better not only this year, but in the future, so that's what we're gonna do."

The Sun Devils will look to rebound on Thursday, March 31 when they travel to Pullman, Wash. to take on the Washington State Cougars in a three-game series.