As he’s done flawlessly countless times during his Sun Devil career, Drew Swift fielded a groundball while moving to his left, squared up towards first base, and fired. This time, however, was not like the others.
Swift’s throw sailed over first base and rattled off the screen in front of the Arizona State dugout. The rare error allowed the Wildcats’ leadoff man to reach, and Arizona (17-7, 4-3 Pac-12) made it hurt.
Arizona State’s (15-6, 4-3) one-run lead in the top of the seventh inning quickly evaporated. The Wildcats brought 12 batters to the plate and scored six runs in the frame, propelling them to a 10-5 series-opening victory at Phoenix Municipal Stadium Thursday night.
“We’ve been really stellar defensively all season and tonight we weren’t,” Arizona State coach Tracy Smith said. “I’ll take a groundball to Drew Swift 100 out of 100 times, and right there he just didn’t make the play. We gave a good team six outs in that inning.”
On the mound, it was evident immediately that freshman starter Brock Peery would not have the same success he enjoyed in his start against Washington State.
After walking the leadoff hitter in the top of the first, a single and a two-run double gave Arizona the lead before Sun Devil fans had settled into their seats. Two more Wildcat hits in the second forced Smith to go to his bullpen early.
“If he’s out there and he’s getting people out, I was going to stick with him,” Smith said. “He was getting hit and he made a mental error not covering first so that’s why we went to the bullpen. We don’t have the luxury of having a true Friday night guy, so guys have got to keep competing.”
In the bottom of the fourth, ASU roared back from a 3-0 deficit. The Sun Devils scored five runs without an extra base hit, but with the benefit of just about everything else.
A walk, a hit by pitch, an error, three singles and a bases-loaded balk accounted for the crooked number in an inning that saw the Sun Devils bat around.
Heading into the frame, Wildcat starter Chase Silseth had been on cruise control. By the time all five ASU runs had crossed the plate, Silseth’s night was finished.
While the momentum was firmly in the Sun Devil dugout, Arizona reliever Chandler Murphy completely snuffed it out. ASU didn’t record a hit over the game’s final five innings, as Murphy dominated down the stretch.
“We have to put together better at-bats consistently there,” Swift said. “I feel like we’ve done a good job keeping our foot on the gas pedal offensively this year, but that didn’t really show up tonight.”
The Sun Devil bullpen, which has been impressive throughout the season, bent but didn’t break in the middle innings. Jared Glenn and Brady Corrigan each had solid outings before Arizona jumped all over right-hander Cam Dennie in the fateful seventh inning.
Smith used six pitchers in a bullpen game that is becoming routine for the pitching-depleted ball club. ASU’s staff allowed 14 hits, and didn’t receive much help from the defense, which committed a season-high four errors.
“Errors are going to happen. I think we’re still a really good defensive team,” Swift said. “This is really one of those games you want to flush and move on. We still have an opportunity to win the series. I’m confident, and I know the rest of our defense is confident and we’re going to bring that tomorrow and the next day.”
In a game that featured multiple lead changes and 21 total hits, Smith believes the outcome can be attributed to one thing.
“We can analyze this and cut it up as much as we want,” Smith said. “The bottom line is we didn’t take care of the baseball tonight and that’s why we lost the game.”