A common theme for Arizona State baseball this season has been one step forward, two steps back.
There was a nine-run loss to Utah one day after Ryan Hingst's no hitter, and a pair of dropped contests to Washington after the Sun Devils went on the road and outscored Washington State by 21 runs over the course of three games.
Yes, consistency has been in short supply for coach Tracy Smith's team this season, and Tuesday's 11-7 loss to UNLV (15-20) represented another sample of "what could have been" for the maroon and gold.
"Being at ASU, much is given and much is expected," said Smith after the loss. "What we did tonight is not indicative of what being at this place is all about."
The start of Tuesday night's game would end up carrying a much different feeling than the ending that came some three hours later.
Arizona State (20-14) drew first blood against the Rebels, scoring three runs in the first three innings thanks to RBI knocks from David Greer and Brian Serven. The game started to turn in the next frame, however, as starting pitcher Jordan Aboites was taken yard for a three-run blast.
"That home run was on an 0-2 count," Smith recounted. "That just can't happen. We did not do a good job all night of locating when we were ahead in putaway counts."
Unfortunately for Smith and company, the defensive troubles in the fourth were only a sign of much, much worse things to come.
UNLV scored six runs in the top half of the sixth inning - a frame that included back-to-back errors from the right side of the infield. Those mistakes led to consecutive two-RBI extra base hits for the visitors from Vegas, the first coming off reliever Chris Isbell and the second off of righty Grant Schneider.
Trailing 7-3, Schneider's problems continued when Andrew Snow and Zach Cerbo mishandled a double steal attempt later in the inning. Another run scored when Snow's throw to the plate went wide left, and the Rebels made the score 9-3 later in the at-bat via an RBI single from Andrew Yazdanbakhsh.
"We practice that play," said Smith when asked about the double steal. "We did exactly what you're not supposed to do. But even with that, if he (Snow) makes an accurate throw, the runner is probably out."
The Sun Devils would spend the rest of the evening attempting to mount a comeback, but the final result was never really in doubt. The closest the team came was in the eighth inning, when Tyler Williams stepped to the plate with runners at the corners and ASU trailing 11-7.
Rebel reliever Ryan Hare was able to induce a weak groundout back to the mound, however, getting the third out of the inning to extinguish any remaining hope from the first base dugout.
The Maroon and Gold now have no choice but to put the bad loss behind them and turn their attention to an important series this weekend at Stanford. Midweek losses won't kill a team's chances at making the NCAA Tournament, but Arizona State will face a real problem if it lets the one bad loss turn into two or three in a row.
"We've got to put this game behind us and win a couple games this weekend," Smith said. "It is going to have to start with out pitching and defense. That stuff has to improve."
The three-game set on The Farm will begin on Friday night at 6:00 PM. Seth Martinez (5-3, 1.88 ERA) is slated to get the start on the mound for the Sun Devils.