PHOENIX — Gage Canning rolled a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth.
Arizona State was trailing Long Beach State by two runs and were down to their final out. The Sun Devils (7-7) were on the verge of sustaining their longest losing streak since 2006.
Canning’s hit appeared harmless. It even crept slowly and harmlessly across the left side of the infield as Dirtbags shortstop Markus Montelongo failed to corral it in time and Canning safely reached base.
But it was only one pitch later that ASU center fielder Andrew Shaps made it the most costly miscue of the game.
.@USABaseball goes into extras and so will we thanks to THIS.@Pac12Networkhttps://t.co/gqCjxvIuqJ— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) March 11, 2017
ASU head coach Tracy Smith acknowledged the importance of Canning’s hit to set up Shaps. “He found a way to poke it,” the second-year coach said of Canning’s dribbler. “Gage Canning’s hit allowed (for the game-tying hit). I just kept saying, if we could just get Shaps to the plate...”
Shaps ripped the first offering he was dealt by LBSU senior right-hander Josh Advocate deep into right field for a two-run home run, tying the contest at six runs apiece, rescuing the Sun Devils, who had trailed by five runs after the first inning, and remained behind by as many for three more.
Shaps had entered the at-bat 0-for-4. The junior had squandered chances to plate runners earlier in the fifth and seventh. When asked what he was looking for when he stepped up for the eventual game-tying at-bat, still perplexed, said, “Honestly, I don’t even remember it.
“The times I came up previously with runners in scoring position and not being able to capitalize on that, that’s what made it more meaningful,” Shaps said.
As freshman left-hander Chaz Montoya struck out what would be the final batter of his longest career outing (3 1⁄3 innings, no hits, five strikeouts) to close the top of the 10th inning, one fan from within Phoenix Municipal Stadium called out, “C’mon, Devils! One more, huh?”
His request would soon be granted.
In the bottom of the 10th, Ryan Lillard drew a walk, then Carter Aldrete’s bunt was misplayed by LBSU pitcher Dave Smith, placing him at first. Hunter Bishop followed by garnering an intentional walk to load the bases with no outs.
Pinch hitter Sam Ferri grounded into a fielder’s choice at second, and the throw home was mishandled, allowing Lillard to slide safely into home behind and capture a walk-off 7-6 victory for the Sun Devils, snapping their four-game losing streak.
Entering Friday, the Maroon & Gold had tallied 53 of their 65 total runs in the fourth inning or later. They added seven more runs to that total Friday.
But while the game’s final at-bat will be what the game is remembered for, its first at-bat would foreshadow the improbable task ASU was faced with for a majority of the contest.
LBSU second baseman Jarren Duran laid down a bunt single on Lingos’s first pitch of the contest. Third baseman Ramsey Romano notched a single back off the throwing hand of Lingos before designated hitter Luke Rasmussen brought Duran home on an RBI single into right-center, giving the Dirtbags a 1-0 lead three at-bats into the game.
Shaps overthrew his cutoff man at second base in an attempt to throw out Romano at third, allowing Rasmussen to scoot all the way into second with none out.
The visitors extended their lead following an RBI sac fly from right fielder Brock Lundquist, which was ensued by an RBI single from first baseman Daniel Jackson, stretching LBSU’s lead to 3-0 on a ball scorched through the infield, under the glove of Aldrete.
The miscue would prove costly when Dirtbags left fielder Lucas Tancas tagged a two-run homer into left field during the next at-bat, pitting the Sun Devils in a 5-0 hole having recorded only one out.
Smith went out to meet with his Lingos during the inning, but elected to leave the left-hander on the mound. The decision rewarded ASU with four scoreless innings out of the ace.
“He’s our guy,” Smith said. “To me, there was no decision of even thinking about going to the pen. I’ll live with a negative result as long as I know that person is aggressive and that they’re trying and that they’re laying it out there. With him, I never questioned that. Yeah, he gave up a bunch of hits today, and he gave a five-spot, but I never once said, ‘Hey, let’s get him outta there.’
“He’s competitive. He’s our best option.”
Lingos managed to keep the Dirtbags off the board through the heart of the contest. The only problem: the Sun Devils’ offense was nowhere to be found—until the fifth inning, that is.
Bishop sparked ASU and a multitude of supporters to life when the true freshman crushed a no-doubt home run into right field, lowering the host’s deficit to 5-1.
The dinger was the first of the season for Bishop, and the first of his career.
When you know you hit it out on contact @HunterBishop9 with his first career dinger.@Pac12Networkhttps://t.co/58y4vMcxqi— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) March 11, 2017
“It felt good,” Bishop said. “To me, it’s just another at-bat. I guess it kind of sparked a rally for us, and got us going.”
In typical fashion, the Sun Devils found their way at the plate late during the second half of the game. A walk by shortstop Jeremy McCuin, a single by catcher Zac Cerbo, and a walk by third baseman Jackson Willeford loaded the bases for right fielder Gage Canning with one out in the fifth.
The sophomore delivered by sailing a sacrifice fly to right field deep enough to plate McCuin, shortening LBSU’s advantage to 5-2. However, ASU’s rally would end after Shaps grounded out to second base to close the frame.
After four scoreless innings following a chaotic first, the Dirtbags finally broke Lingos again in the sixth.
The southpaw struck out Duran to open the inning, but an error by McCuin enabled Romano to reach base with one out. Once again, LBSU made ASU pay for its defensive breakdown, as Rasmussen singled during the following at-bat, setting up Romano to score on an RBI single by Lundquist to give the Dirtbags a 6-2 lead.
Lingos would escape the inning without incurring any further damage, but was pulled in favor of right-hander Eder Erives to start the seventh inning.
Erives, the lone senior member of ASU’s pitching staff, has been dealing with a strained arm, but looked good initially, striking out the first batter he faced amidst touching upwards of 88 mph, then induced a pop up into shallow second. Things got shaky for the veteran after that.
Dirtbags catcher David Banuelos drove a 2-2 offering into the gap at left-center for a stand-up triple, then Montelongo reached base when he was beamed by a wayward Erives pitch.
After a players meeting at the mound concluded, Smith emerged from the dugout himself to pull Erives. Facing Duran, LBSU’s leadoff batter, with runners on the corners and two outs in place of him stepped Montoya.
The left-hander stepped up in a big way, stifling the scoring threat, striking out Duran to keep the score at 6-2.
“He’s a competitive kid,” Smith said. “That was good to extend him. It seemed like he kept getting better and better.”
“Four runs wasn’t anything,” said a confident Montoya. “I feel like just having confidence in yourself, I feel like it’s an intimidation factor for me. I like it.”
Riding the momentum of Montoya’s escape, McCuin opened the bottom of the seventh with a single and was advanced to third on a double by Cerbo. A pinch-hit RBI groundout by Andrew Snow inched ASU closer at 6-3.
A 1-2-3 outing in the top of the eighth from Montoya kept the Sun Devils within three. In the bottom half of the frame, Aldrete slapped an RBI double into right-center, drawing ASU as close as it had been since the opening inning.
Then Canning rolled a two-out single into the left side of the infield... and now the Sun Devils have a chance to build on what felt like a momentous win with conference play a week away.
The second match of the Sun Devils’ three-game series against Long Beach State will be held Saturday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, with first pitch scheduled to be thrown at 3 p.m. MT.