Despite the Arizona State Sun Devils being eliminated from the Pac-12 title race Saturday afternoon by way of a Utah victory, Tracy Smith knew there was a lot on the line for ASU in the second game of their series against USC.
Many expected Tempe to be announced as a host site for a regional if the Sun Devils could win their final series of the regular season, a feat they could have accomplished with a victory Saturday night.
After the nine innings were played, however, there may be more questions than answers regarding ASU's postseason future as the Sun Devils dropped Game 2 to the Trojans, 6-2 in front of 3,321 fans at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
ASU collected just five hits and left 10 runners on base and a costly, late-game defensive miscue broke the game open for the Trojans.
"We picked a bad time, with so much on the line, to play what I describe as bonehead baseball tonight," Smith said. "That's going to happen sometimes. It's just unfortunate that it happened with so much at stake."
The Sun Devils are likely competing with Arizona, Washington and Cal State Fullerton to be the lone western team to host a regional, a feat the program has not accomplished since 2011. Regionals are expected to be announced around 5:30 p.m. PT and the Sun Devils are slated to take on USC at 2 p.m.
"Everything that I was reading was if you win the weekend we had a pretty good chance of hosting," Smith said. "We could still win the weekend tomorrow."
The Sun Devils could not have asked for a better start Saturday, as they struck in the bottom of the first inning when after David Greer poked a single to right field, Andrew Shaps smacked a two-out double to get ASU on the board.
The Sun Devils were unable to get more in the first however, as Ryan Lillard struck out with runners on the corners to end the frame.
ASU manufactured their second run of the game in the third inning. Following a leadoff walk to David Greer and a single from Colby Woodmansee, Shaps bounced out to first to allow both runners to move up 90 feet. The following hitter, Brian Serven, hit a deep fly ball to center field that allowed Greer to tag and score to extend the ASU lead to 2-0.
That lead seemed as if it might be enough for starter Jordan Aboites, as the senior sent down the first nine batters he faced.
"I thought he was as sharp as he's been in a while," said Smith of Aboites. "If we play defense behind him I don't think he gives up a run."
The Trojans got on the board in the fourth inning on a sacrifice fly off the bat of center fielder Timmy Robinson. Following a leadoff single, the Trojans orchestrated a successful hit and run to put runners on the corners ahead of Robinson.
USC took the lead an inning later when left fielder Lars Nootbaar launched a two-run home run to right-centerfield. The batter prior reached when third baseman Jeremy McCuin was unable to handle a sharply hit ball to the left side of the infield.
Nootbbar made the Devils pay for the mistake three pitches later and USC took a 3-2 lead.
The Trojans broke the game open with a three-run eighth inning. After pitch-hitter Angelo Armenta walked to leadoff the inning, the Sun Devils intentionally walked USC DH David Oppenheim with two outs to get to center fielder Timmy Robinson.
The senior came through with an RBI single to put USC ahead 4-2 and catcher Jeremy Martinez tripled home Oppenheim and Robinson four pitches later to make it 6-2 Trojans. The ball looked as if it might be caught off the bat of Martinez, however Shaps cut in front of Gage Canning in right-centerfield and the ball dropped between them.
"Andrew should not have been there, Gage was clearly there," Smith said. "It was just a mistake on his part. Unfortunately that cost us two runs tonight. We just made a lot of critical mistakes with a lot on the line."
The Sun Devils attempted to mount a comeback in the bottom of the eighth when Shaps and Serven started the inning with back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners with nobody out. However, Ryan Lillard struck out and Snow bounced into a 5-4-3 double play to end the inning.
The Sun Devils also left two runners on base in the ninth inning as ASU went just 2-10 with runners in scoring position and 3-18 with runners on base Saturday night.
With the defeat, ASU is in an interesting place. Smith indicated that he will start lefty Eli Lingos on Sunday, but it would be a "all hands on deck" kind of game with so much on the line.
With how Sunday games tend to go in college baseball, the Sun Devils might very well be still playing when regional hosts are announced around 5:30. How much stock will the committee put into Sunday's result?
"They better have their TV's on," Smith joked.