Over the course of Arizona State’s win streak, a consistent storyline has been the impressive performance of the pitching staff in the face of massive adversity.
However, UNLV (7-3) got the best of ASU’s (11-3) arms time and time again in a 10-9 win, halting the win streak at nine.
The final game before the start of Pac-12 play was a back-and-forth affair as it featured five lead changes. ASU’s reliable staff surrendered the most runs thus far this season on Tuesday.
“We were not sharp on the mound today,” said head coach Tracy Smith. “Sometimes that’s going to happen, and we just have to regroup and get ready for the weekend. They’ve been performing well and we will lean on them in the future.”
The ASU offense flexed its muscles in the home half of the third with UNLV on top 3-1. Following a Joe Lampe leadoff single, Drew Swift belted a 3-1 fastball to deep left center to tie the game.
Later in the frame, Hunter Jump scampered home on a wild pitch to put the Sun Devils in front.
It was evident early that the ASU bullpen was going to have another busy day. Freshman starting pitcher Joe Hauser, making just his second collegiate appearance, was on a short leash following a pair of solo home runs in the second.
When he surrendered a two-out double in the third, Smith made his first of many trips to the mound. He called on another freshman, Bryce Barnett, to close the frame. On the first batter he faced, Barnett gave up an RBI single to shallow center before retiring the side.
“We’re going to have to pitch really well and throw a lot of strikes in conference,” Smith said. “With all the injuries we’ve faced, a number of guys are going to get opportunities to start and come out of the pen.”
Senior catcher Sam Ferri led off the home half of the fourth with a bang. He drove a first pitch fastball to left center, easily clearing the ASU wall of honor. By the time his first blast of the season landed, the Phoenix Zoo had been put on notice.
After two weeks of excellent work, the Sun Devil bullpen finally bent and broke in the top of the seventh. Jared Glenl issued a leadoff walk before being chased by a single on the next pitch.
Smith summoned freshman Graham Osman, and the Rebels were quick to capitalize on the new arm.
Jack-Thomas Wold laced a game-tying single up the middle, scoring Austin Kryszczuk from second. The Rebels jumped in front when Eric Bigani roped a line drive to right.
Sophomore Kai Murphy dove for the sinking liner and came up empty, and by the time Lampe tracked the ball down in the right field corner, the bases clearing triple had put UNLV up 8-6.
“He’s a great player and he’s aggressive,” Smith said of Murphy. “We’re definitely going to talk about it because it’s happened twice now, but it’s a good player making a bad decision.”
As was the theme of the day for both sides, the latest Rebel lead was short lived. A flurry of seventh inning singles from ASU got them within one, before Drew Swift dug in with two outs and runners on first and second base.
The ASU shortstop jumped on the first pitch he saw, smacking a double deep down the left field line to put the Sun Devils back on top.
“I like being in that leadoff guy, seeing a pitcher for the first time,” Swift said. “I was seeing the ball well today, and it was great to see our offense keep fighting back. I thought we put together some really good at-bats.”
Will Levine, the sixth ASU pitcher of the game, ran into trouble in the eighth. With two outs and a man on first, three-straight Rebel singles gave them a 10-9 lead that they did not relinquish.
After spending the season’s first four weeks in the comfortable confines of its home ballpark, ASU hits the road this weekend to open PAC-12 play with a three game series against Oregon in Eugene.
Being home is always nice, but Smith and the staff are excited to see what their young squad brings to the table in enemy territory.
“I’m looking forward to being on the road,” Smith said. “It’s been nice being in the comfort of our own building, but I feel really confident getting on that plane and going up to Oregon. We’re going to compete, that’s for sure.”
Another Arm Lost
Following Tuesday’s game, Smith also announced that Erik Tolman will undergo season-ending Tommy John Surgery. Tolman is the third prominent ASU pitcher to head for the operating table in the last three weeks.
“With Erik it was kind of a rollercoaster,” Smith said. “At first we thought it was that (Tommy John) then we were optimistic it wasn’t but now here we are.”
Tolman joins Cooper Benson and Boyd Vander Kooi in a club no pitcher wants to be a part of. He is expected to be ready for the start of next season.
The latest bad news will obviously impact how the staff is used, but Swift is still confident in his 11-3 squad.
“Nobody said it would be easy,” he said. “I like our group and I think in the long run we will be okay.”