USC sophomore catcher Blake Sobal fired a ball down to third, giving junior Brandon Perez plenty of time to tag out a jogging sophomore Hunter Bishop a few feet before the base to end the eighth inning with an 8-4 USC lead.
ASU manager Tracy Smith, who usually resides in the dugout, wanted to “change things up” by coaching at third. He raced into the dugout in dismay.
“I’m a little bit at a loss right now,” Smith said. “A big part of the game is just being mentally into the game, knowing what the situation calls for, certainly knowing how many outs there are and where base runners are”
Bishop’s mental lapse — not knowing first base was unoccupied as he jogged to third with his head down after a walk — was a key miscue that caused the Sun Devils (14-18, 6-6 Pac-12) to drop Sunday’s rubber match to USC (16-12, 5-7) by a score of 8-4 at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
“I literally saw the walk. I put my head down and was walking towards and I hear everybody yelling ‘I think he thought there was a runner at first,’” Smith said.
ASU had four errors opposed to USC’s one in the series. Coming into Sunday’s matchup, USC had a Pac-12 low 18 errors with a conference best .982 fielding percentage.
Arizona State’s .961 fielding percentage is a Pac-12 worst. Its 46 errors are 14 more than any team in the conference.
The lone error on Sunday came from a miscommunication by junior center fielder Gage Canning and sophomore left fielder Carter Aldrete in the fifth inning. Canning was camped under a pop up in left center field when Aldrete drifted towards it and the ball tipped off his glove onto the grass.
USC runners advanced to second and third. ASU right-handed junior starting pitcher Sam Romero was then taken out of the game. Lefty freshman Dellan Raish then allowed an RBI sacrifice fly to the first batter he saw. At that point, the Trojans led 3-1.
Aldrete, who played mostly third and second base last season, has only performed in the outfield since near the start of Pac-12 play. Since the Arizona game on March 13, it was Aldrete’s second error in the outfield in 15 games.
“If you’re calling the baseball at the same time, it’s tough to hear,” Smith said. “But I’d venture to say if Carter’s played a lot out in left, than you know you’d probably defer to Gage Canning who covers everything.”
Freshman second baseman Alika Williams ended an eight-game hitting streak, while Canning went hitless for first time in nine games.
Arizona State earned three of its four runs on solo shots. Freshman third baseman Gage Workman and Carter Aldrete hit their first blasts of the season, and freshman first baseman Spencer Torkerlson hit his 15th.
However, it’s defensively down the stretch where Smith wants to improve. The Sun Devils allowed five runs in the final four innings after giving up three in the first five.
Sophomore lefty Chaz Montoya gave up three hits to all three batters he faced in the eighth inning, giving up three earned runs.
“We’re not going to win consistently until we’re more consistent on the bump,” Smith said. “The Workman home runs, the Torkelson home runs — all those things are fine and dandy and boy do they look sexy in the box score — but I’d rather be pitching the baseball better and playing good defense because that’s what wins.”
The Sun Devils face UNLV on Tuesday at 6:05 p.m. in Sin City, before traveling to No. 2 Stanford for another in-conferences series.