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ASU Baseball: Arizona clinches series, outlasts Sun Devils in back-and-forth battle

Onto Saturday

Brady Vernon/House of Sparky

As the old saying goes, if you come to the ballpark, you might see something you’ve never seen before. This proved to be true for those in attendance at Phoenix Muni on Friday night.

A bizarre sixth-inning play shifted the momentum in Arizona’s (18-7, 5-3 Pac-12) 7-6 victory over Arizona State (15-7, 4-4) in a four-hour game that featured four lead changes.

Leading off the frame, Arizona’s Tanner O’Tremba laced a shot down the left field line. As ASU left fielder Hunter Jump went to retrieve the ball, he caught a spike in the fence.

As the ball laid to rest on the warning track, Jump threw his hands up to signal dead ball while desperately trying to free himself. O’Tremba circled the bases, and the umpires met after examining the situation down the line.

The crew determined that the ball was live, awarding O’Tremba what was certainly the weirdest home run of his career.

“I’ve never seen that. The rule doesn’t allow a player being wedged into a wall. It’s only the ball,” ASU head coach Tracy Smith said. “The fact that he got his foot caught in the fence just didn’t matter. I think he did the right thing given the situation he was in. Just a really unfortunate play.”

In a back-and-forth affair, Arizona was able to outlast its rivals from the north, clinching the series in the process. Offense was not hard to come by in this one, as each team tallied 12 hits.

For ASU, the scoring started early. In the home half of the first, Drew Swift greeted Arizona starter Garret Irvin with a leadoff triple on the game’s third pitch. Joe Lampe wasted no time driving in Swift, lofting an RBI-single to left center on the first pitch he saw.

Sean McLain then extended his impressive hitting streak to 20 games with an RBI-double into the left field corner. A Nate Baez single extended the lead to three.

McLain’s streak is the longest since Spencer Torkelson’s 21-game-streak in 2019, and is hot on the tail of Andre Ethier’s 2003 mark of 23.

“That’s a cool list to be on for sure,” McLain said. “I feel like I’m still a young hitter, but I’m definitely in a better place than I was at this time last year. But at the end of the day, we lost the game, and we’re focused on coming out tomorrow and getting a win.”

Smith was quick to praise his second baseman.

“I love what he’s doing. He’s throwing together great at-bats and playing good solid baseball,” Smith said. “He’s been working hard and its paying off, but I’m sure if you asked Sean, he would trade all those hits for wins.”

Arizona has made its money in 2021 on the long ball. The Wildcats flexed their muscles again Friday night. A solo blast from Ryan Holgate and a two-run shot from Donta Williams tied the game in the fourth.

ASU starter Tyler Thornton, who had been skating on thin ice through the game’s first three frames, was lifted for Brady Corrigan.

The Sun Devil bullpen was sound in immediate relief of Thornton, with O’Tremba’s mind-boggling inside-the-park homer accounting for the only Arizona run prior to the eighth inning.

In the top of the eighth, ASU reliever Graham Osman struggled to find the zone early. A walk and hit-by-pitch bookended a single, loading the bases with nobody out.

As they did in Thursday’s series opener, the Wildcats took advantage of the opportunity, manufacturing three runs to take the lead that they did not relinquish.

“Graham was throwing well, and we saw the heart of their order was coming up and we liked the lefty on lefty matchup,” Smith said. “The plan was to let him go through Williams, but when he hit the guy who was trying to give us an out with a bunt, the plan kind of goes out the window.”

Osman, the only available lefty in the Sun Devil bullpen, gave way to Will Levine, who got ASU out of the jam before tossing a scoreless ninth inning.

The Sun Devils went silently into the night in the eighth and ninth innings, tamed by Arizona closer Preston Price. Price recorded a five-out save, striking out two.

“I like the way we played. I thought we played hard and competed,” Smith said. “We played well enough to win but they’re a great team and they did more. We didn’t execute on a couple things and in this conference, there’s a fine line between winning and losing. We’ve got a young ball club so we aren’t too hard on them. They know what we have to do in order to win here.”

Arizona State attempts to salvage a game from the Pac-12 series against Arizona on Saturday with first pitch slated for 7 p.m. local time.