After taking the first two games of the Territorial Cup in dominating fashion, the Sun Devils had to grind out a long, tiresome and sloppy baseball game with their rival Arizona Wildcats, as the two teams combined to score 33 runs.
Arizona State (25-1, 8-1) pulled out a 17-16 win over the Wildcats (13-14, 2-7) to sweep the series, doing so for the first time since 2009. The game winner came off the bat of Alika Williams as he roped a grounder to short, causing shortstop Dayton Dooney to bobble the ball and sail an errant throw, allowing Drew Swift to score from third.
It ended a ballgame that lasted a whopping five hours and ten minutes, the longest of the season by far.
“I was actually clean shaven this morning,” head coach Tracy Smith joked after the game.
“That may have been the longest nine-inning game I’ve ever played,” added Williams.
The performance showed that ASU has learned how to win games. Last year, this type of game likely gets away from them due to poor pitching and erratic defense, as the Sun Devils committed four errors in the ballgame. This year, it was a different result. The offense rallied after starter RJ Dabovich lasted just two innings, allowing five earned runs on seven hits.
“It was an ugly baseball game, but at the end of the day it’s a win,” Smith said. “When you look back at the end of the season when you’re playing for a championship, this is going to be a very important game in that win column.”
The maroon and gold offense pushed across runs in eight of their nine frames in Sunday’s contest, with multiple runs being scored in each of the first five innings. Yet so much of it came as a needed response. The Devils were down 4-0 after U of A knocked Dabovich around in the top of the frame. They responded to put up a three-spot of their own, only for Arizona to follow with an additional trio in the second off the ASU starter.
“They’re a really good fastball hitting team,” Smith said when asked of Dabovich’s struggles. “He was not real effective in throwing his off-speed over. I didn’t want to go out there and take him out in the second inning because I knew we had a lot of ballgame left, but I just felt like we had to change it up.”
Down four, the Devils bounced back again. It took them until the bottom of the fifth to regain the lead, but home runs leading up to it from Alika Williams, Spencer Torkelson and Lyle Lin would push the Devils out to their first lead.
It was a lead they hung on to until the eighth rolled around when the Wildcats struck again, this time in the fashion of a four-run inning to regain the lead before the Devils drove in one in the bottom of their eighth and ninth frames to come away with the win.
“You’re going to have a handful of games like this. In a 56-game season, you’re going to have two or three games that are just not good. But if you can find a way to win, that’s the positive,” Smith said.
In spite of the bullpen allowing 10 runs (5 ER), relievers stepped up to throw when steady arms were being requested. Sam Romero specifically, leads that charge. The senior came into the game, not-so-fresh off a three-inning outing in Saturday’s win, but he dialed in and threw an additional 41 pitches, keeping the score at a 16-16 deadlock entering the Devils half of the ninth.
“I was ready to go, I’ll do anything for the team,” Romero said. “He asked me [if I was ready] and I was like ‘yeah I got it.’”
“I didn’t think I was going to go in,” he added. “But I was probably the last arm so I just started getting ready.”
In fact, even Alec Marsh informed Smith he was going to get loose in case he was needed. Although the ASU manager had colder feet about actually inserting the Friday starter into the game, but had admiration for the mentality.
“I doubt it,” Smith said with a chuckle when asked about putting Marsh in. “I appreciate the fact that he wanted to do that. That was pretty neat.”
The Sun Devils will return to action on Tuesday evening as they will take on the Long Beach State Dirtbags for a midweek matchup. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m.