The Arizona State Sun Devils were close. They were close to putting together back-to-back wins agains a quality conference foe. Close to beating the Cal Golden Bears, taking the series against the No. 15 team in the nation and inching their way closer to the bubble.
However, close doesn't count for much in sports.
ASU held the lead for the first six innings Saturday afternoon, rallied to tie the game in the ninth only to fall in 11 in Game 2 of the Pac-12 series 6-4 in front of 1,937 fans at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
"Losing is always unacceptable, but I would take that effort every day of the week," Tracy Smith said. "I don't think anybody quit. We used basically everybody on the roster and they all contributed. The effort was there, the intent was there. I didn't love losing, but I loved being in the dugout and competing with those guys today."
The Sun Devils surrendered a 2-1 lead in the top of the seventh when with two outs and a runner on third Cal third baseman Mitchell Kranson blasted a double over the head of centerfielder Colton Gerhart to tie the game.
The next pitch was a ground ball off the bat of catcher Brett Cumberland that was misplayed by David Greer allowing Kranson to score and giving the Golden Bears a 3-2 lead.
The late runs spoiled an outstanding start from sophomore Eli Lingos. The lefty pitched in and out of trouble all afternoon, allowing 11 hits but just two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings. This coming after he threw 16 pitches in relief Friday night.
"We needed him," said Smith of Lingos. "(Giving up) 11 hits you could say he wasn't effective but you look at the box score and against a really good hitting team he only gives up two runs. It was big for him and big for us and it is sickening that we don't find a way to win that baseball game, but sometimes that happens."
Lingos did not work a perfect frame all game, inducing double plays to end the second and third innings as the Golden Bears left 12 runners on base.
"I think our pitchers are being a lot more aggressive in pitcher's counts," second baseman Andrew Snow said. "They're attacking when hitters are having to defend in the at-bat. (When it's) 0-2, they are throwing low and away fastballs and they are getting guys to make it easy for us and getting ground balls."
The Sun Devils rallied with two runs in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings. Zach Cerbo drew a one-out walk and came around to score on an RBI single by Chris Beall and with two outs, Beall scored on an RBI double by Snow to tie the game at four.
"That guy (Cal closer Keaton Siomkin) is pretty good. He was throwing a fastball that was fastball that was moving both ways," said Snow about his at-bat in the ninth. "I was just trying to battle and see the ball. I fouled like five or six off and then he threw me a fastball up and I got a hold of it."
After Eder Erives, who tossed 22 pitches in 1 1/3 innings Friday night, tossed a scoreless 10th, the Sun Devils had a good chance to win the game in the bottom of the frame after Brian Serven was hit by pitch to leadoff the inning.
After Sebastian Zawada couldn't advance him to second with a bunt, he flew out to right field. Serven attempted to take second after tagging up at first and was thrown out by Cal right fielder Brian Celsi for a double play.
"The guy (Celsi) made a one-hop throw to the bag. If the right fielder is off five feet either way he probably makes it," said Smith of Serven trying to take second. "Was it the best baseball play, maybe not. But he thought he could make it and he went."
Cespi broke the tie with a solo home run that cleared the right field fence. Two batters later, Cal second baseman Robbie Tenerowicz hit a solo home run over the left field fence to give Cal a 6-4 lead. The Golden Bears would add two additional runs off ASU freshman southpaw Connor Higgins for some insurance.
The Sun Devils still have a chance to take a series from the Pac-12 leaders when the two teams meet in the rubber match tomorrow at 12:30. According to Smith, freshman Zach Dixon will take the mound for ASU.