The rubber match of Arizona State’s three-game series against UCLA was decided before the Sun Devils took the plate.
Only a few hours separated from a late-inning victory over the Bruins - rallying from down 4-2 in the eighth to snatch a 5-4 win - it didn’t even take until the end of pregame warmups for skipper Tracy Smith to know his team wasn’t ready for Sunday’s finale.
“Everybody’s trying, but at some point trying’s not good enough,” Smith said. “What we have to guard against - and it was even evident in pregame - we had a big win last night, guys feeling pretty good about themselves. But I think that’s the part where we show a little bit of our immaturity or whatever you want to say because I went out and watched in field and I could tell right then - actually, we pulled them in the locker room and said ‘This isn’t right, we’re not ready to play,’ I could tell just by the way we’re carrying ourselves.”
Arizona State’s lack of presence on Sunday resulted in a five-run bloodshed in the first frame, and the Sun Devils spent another afternoon chasing their opponent down from behind.
Reagan Todd - who had made all nine of his previous appearances out of the bullpen - was immediately put to the fire by the top of the Bruin order, allowing the first two batters to reach safely before Sean Bouchard’s double plated the afternoon’s first run.
Todd walked the bases full before facing Chase Strumpf - setting the table for the game-turning at-bat. Strumpf connected on a 1-0 fastball, spraying a double to the left-center field wall and scoring all three runners. A bases-loaded walk from Todd enlarged the first-inning damage, and ASU entered the bottom half of the first down 5-0.
This is not a new trend for ASU. At the conclusion of the the UCLA series, Arizona State has now allowed its opponent to score first in 18 of the season’s 26 games. The Sun Devils have a 9-8 record in those games, and even hold a 5-6 clip when they’ve given up a tally in the first frame.
But if Sunday’s game serves a microcosm, there’s nothing sustainable about playing from behind.
“If it happens enough, what happens - you start to expect to get scored upon,” Smith said. “And that’s something we’re battling particularly as a young team. None of that stuff matters. It’s a new game, it’s a new whatever - but you don’t ever want to expect bad stuff to happen.”