The table was set for No. 22 Arizona State (32-11, 13-9 Pac-12) to take a Friday night victory against the No. 1 team in the nation.
After a leadoff walk to start the ninth inning, the Sun Devils had the tying run at first and the winning run standing at home plate. The makings of an upset seemed to be in place. However, sophomore closer Holden Powell had a different idea for the Bruins.
He slammed the door with three consecutive punch outs to close Friday’s contest. UCLA (36-7, 15-4 Pac-12) came away with a 3-2 victory.
“We played well tonight, they played well tonight, and they won,” head coach Tracy Smith said. “I thought we made pitches when we needed to and they made pitches and it was a good baseball game.”
Smith’s comments proved to be true. Friday night’s matchup was nothing short of the hype. Two highly talented Friday night aces went toe-to-toe. ASU just fell on the short end.
ASU junior pitcher Alec Marsh squared off against UCLA junior Ryan Garcia. Both took the mound all the way into the eighth inning. Marsh went 7.1 innings while allowing nine hits and striking out six.
Garcia threw seven innings while striking out eight and walking just two. The hurlers on the mound left a thin tight rope to walk for both teams.
Marsh described UCLA’s lineup as if he was facing “a bunch of scrappy two-hitters”.
The margin of error was thin, but Marsh presented his best stuff in a bounce back game after getting touched up at Washington last week.
“You almost try to be perfect...You have to take your talent and your hard work and everything in order to beat a team like that,” Marsh said. “You can’t just be on cruise control. I thought I did almost everything right today. Sometimes, it just doesn’t work out but I gave everything I had today. It’s just what happens. It’s baseball.”
UCLA was everything that was advertised. They made a few stellar defensive plays, they threw strikes, and they tried to gain every inch possible in a tight-knit game. As Smith noted yesterday, “They don’t beat themselves.”
That was the case when they manufactured the eventual winning run in the eight inning. Sophomore outfielder Garrett Mitchell laid down a bunt single, then he was moved over on a sac bunt. He moved to third on a single, then was brought home on a sac fly.
The Bruins manufactured their runs. That ended up being the winning difference in a 3-2 final. As for ASU, they also took consistent at-bats against Garcia. Sophomore third baseman Gage Workman drove home the team’s first run on an RBI fielder’s choice in the fourth.
Both teams scrapped away to try and come out on top. However, in the end, it would be two of UCLA’s arms that led the way. The Bruins’ hold the lowest ERA in the conference and they proved why.
Garcia went seven strong, then Powell picked up his teammate to tight rope out of tight situations. Specifically, Powell came in with runners on the corners and nobody out in the eighth. Spencer Torkelson was the first hitter he faced. It was a sticky situation.
The closer induced a strikeout of Torkelson, a sac fly RBI from sophomore Trevor Hauver, then he went on to get a groundout. Although ASU put up a run, Powell put forth damage control.
His performance helped close out the one-run win.
“We are making moves based on the personnel, based on the score, based on the number of outs, and how much is left in the game,” Smith said. “There’s not really a thing I would have done differently except stick in a hit or two. But that’s baseball.”
Among a few offensive standouts, junior Lyle Lin had three hits and continued his hot streak from Washington last week. He was pulled in the seventh for a pinch-runner. Smith noted the situation called for extra speed as ASU tried to claw in a run. Lin backed his manager.
“I can’t control that. I can only control having good at-bats,” Lin said. “If that gives us a better chance to win a ballgame, I am trusting Skip whether to keep me on first base or to pinch run for me.”
Ultimately, Friday was a highly-contested top-25 affair. ASU just fell on the wrong side of the stick against a high-caliber UCLA squad. The Devils return to action tomorrow afternoon for game two at 3:00 p.m. MST as they look to win two straight games to win a series.
“If you look at the ERA’s of the guys we were facing, it was going to be a grind it out and hang in there game. Maybe get a break here or there,” Smith said. “We played well and we had our chances, we just didn't get it done.”