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ASU Baseball: Sun Devils battle their way back to beat top-ranked UCLA

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Comeback winner

Richard Martinez/ House of Sparky

It’s no rumor Carter Aldrete is filled with confidence. The spotlight landed on him in the bottom of the eighth, fresh off the bench, Aldrete tasked to give Arizona State the lead back.

Poised and collected, the junior utility man dumped the 1-1 offering from Holden Powell into right field. Hunter Bishop tapped the plate at Phoenix Municipal stadium for the second time on Sunday, this time for the go-ahead run in the Sun Devils’ 8-7 win over top-ranked UCLA (37-8, 16-5 Pac-12).

“I was looking at pitches all day — I didn’t start, this was my first non-start of the season — so I was locked in the whole game, knowing I was going to get a big at-bat like that in the eighth,” Aldrete said.

Aldrete did sit for the first time all season, a situation ASU head coach Tracy Smith didn’t think much of.

“He’s been struggling, struggling offensively and defensively. And sometimes it helps to kinda take a step back and watch a little bit. That shows his maturity, his care for this team because he didn’t pout, he didn’t mope. He stayed in the game and got the biggest hit of the game for us,” Smith said.

Arizona State (33-12, 14-10) viewed their early four-run cushion diminish at the hand of their own blunders. However, they bounced back, a concept that went against the common theme that plagued it in 2018.

The eighth inning featured the first time the Sun Devils had rallied for their offense on Sunday. The bats started by sophomore first baseman Spencer Torkelson’s 16th home run of the season.

The potential sign for a comeback showed itself when ASU caught a break on the long ball from Torkelson. As UCLA center fielder Matt McLain brought his glove-hand back to the field, the second base umpire Adam Dowdy and the entire Phoenix Municipal Stadium crown thought McLain caught it. In reality, the ball went a few inches in favor of the Sun Devils.

The rolls continued to go the way of ASU a batter latter. Sophomore shortstop Alika Williams hit a swinging bunt for a single. Junior center fielder Hunter Bishop battled as well to continue to rally, he fell behind 1-2 initially, but forced a walk.

Sophomore third baseman Gage Workman lifted a ball to left field, an out that did his job. After UCLA loaded the bases with an error, Workman set the stage for Aldrete.

Workman also ended a four-inning scoreless drought with his sixth blast of the season in the sixth. It was only the second hit, the first being a double from himself, since Bishop’s grand slam in the first.

“For us, we know how relentless our approach is and how good our hitters can be. Obviously they kept us quiet the first couple nights, but we knew we were going to click,” Bishop said. “You saw that in the first inning and the eighth inning. I thought we were swinging it good all weekend, we were just getting unlucky”

Nine walks and four errors gave flashbacks to the product ASU had produced a season before. The mistake from Blake Burzell proved costly at the time to give UCLA the lead.

UCLA third baseman Ryan Kreidler dropped down a bunt to play small ball in a game locked up at four in the sixth inning. The ball dribbled to Burzell’s right, he spun toward third in hopes of throwing out the lead runner. He made the motion to Gage Workman, but held on to it and flipped his body back to first to get Kreidler. Extremely off balanced, the throw sailed past the covering Alika Williams.

Still with no outs, the Bruins used a single and a groundball double play to score two more in the frame.

The fault only fired up the freshman righty. He stayed in to throw a scoreless seventh and eighth, to help provide an opportunity for the stellar offense to come through.

“After that happened I got pissed off, I was like I’’m not letting these guys kids score again,” Burzell said. “I was just pounding the zone, and the next inning I just came out I was like I’m not letting these kids score.”

ASU has dropped five of the past eight. Its sour spell has made Smith take the perspective of how good his team can be if everything is on point.

“If want to be where we have to be, those are the steps we have to take. We need to eliminate that stuff if want to be where we want to be,” he said. “The best part of this, we played a very realistically poor baseball game on the mound and defensively....all that said, this group still found — arguably one of the worst games we’ve played — still found a way to win against the No. 1 team in the county. That shows you how good this team could be if we can get some of those things taken care of us.”

The Sun Devils will have four straight non-conference road games. They head south on Tuesday for a 6:00 p.m. contest against Arizona. Then they’ll hit the road for a three-game series at Nebraska.