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ASU Baseball: Sun Devils get “lucky” in walk-off win against Cal

The Sun Devils threw 23 balls in one inning

Jordan Kaye/House of Sparky

PHOENIX — ASU outfielder Hunter Bishop and Cal outfielder/pitcher Tanner Dodson have a little rivalry. Bishop said beyond the pair’s close friendship beyond baseball, he had familiarity with Dodson as a pitcher, having faced him last summer in the Cape Cod League.

So with a runner on second in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game, the Sun Devil junior was comfortable with Dodson standing 60-feet-6-inches away from him.

“I remember that his fastball like tends to move a lot — like towards the opposite side, to the batter’s box side,” Bishop said. “I told myself that but I honestly didn’t really do a good job of staying through the ball. But I lucked out.”

Indeed he, and the Devils, did.

Bishop bounced the fifth pitch he saw up the middle, allowing ASU (23-30, 13-15 Pac-12) to celebrate in walk-off fashion for the second time this season with a 5-4 win over Cal (31-21, 14-14).

Bishop’s walk-off winner capped an inning that showed a great deal of resiliency from a team that’s been out of postseason contention for weeks. ASU has blown plenty of games this season and Thursday didn’t seem to be going astray from its normal script.

But after Gage Canning struck out to start the frame, Carter Aldrete beat out a ground ball to shortstop by less than a second. And the next batter, sophomore Lyle Lin, crushed a RBI-double over the center fielder’s head to tie the game at four and set up Bishop.

After the game, though, the Devils weren’t quite throwing a party.

“We got lucky,” ASU head coach Tracy Smith said.

The Sun Devil skipper who preached patience had to come to the realization a few weeks ago that the team he preached promise for wasn’t going to turn the corner in 2018. They will finish with back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in program history.

For Smith and the Devils, Thursday’s win doesn’t really mean anything — but it sure beats the alternative.

“It’s bittersweet for me because ... some of the same things keep happening” Smith said. “(It’s like) that old saying ‘if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, maybe it is a duck.”

The fourth-year ASU coach knows what he has heading into next year: A solid lineup that has been sabotaged by bad defense and even worse pitching. On Thursday, those problems were non-existent for six innings.

Starter Alec Marsh got through 6 13 innings having only allowed three earned runs and four hits on 86 pitches while the Devils were still without an error, a mark they would finish out the game with.

Then Smith called to his bullpen with one out and a runner on second in the seventh. But, making a call to the bullpen at this point in the season is really just a guessing game for the ASU coaching staff, and they rarely guess right.

“It’s a lot easier to manage when you know what you’re going to get, even if it’s so-so,” Smith said. “It’s been so up and down that if you see a guy last outing, he could be out and pounding the strike zone then ... we’re 20 out of 24 (pitches are) balls.”

After Marsh, Smith’s first guess was lefty Chaz Montoya. He only faced two batters. The first he walked on five pitches, and the second he hit. Smith was quick to pull Montoya and insert another lefty — junior Connor Higgins.

Jordan Kaye/House of Sparky

Some may have thought that Smith went with Higgins to get the lefty-on-lefty matchup with Cal’s Tyrus Dgreen at the plate. That, though, was not the case.

“It’s not, ‘hey, here’s the great matchup and we can do this and that.’ It’s really fundamentally coming down to who can throw a strike, Smith said. “That’s not real comforting.”

Higgins came to the mound with the bases loaded. Seven pitches later, too, the bases were still loaded — only there was a different face at each one and Cal had tied the game up. The next batter, though, Higgins got to ground out to third but not before the go-ahead run crossed home for Cal.

The left-hander would throw seven more balls, in an inning that had plenty, before getting Jonah Davis to strike out two batters later.

The final two games of the season won’t be used in any standings, but ASU is trying to get something out of it. The players want it to be a springboard into their summer league. Smith, however, wants to still see passion, noting that there are still observations to be made.

“If anybody in these last two games goes out to just play to get through the season, that’s not what we’re building with,” he said. “That’s not what we’re moving forward with.”