It looked like Utah would head to the bottom of the ninth inning with a chance to win it.
Matthew Sox had retired six Sun Devil batters in a row and had Ethan Long on the ropes in a two-strike count with two outs. Long didn’t fold, instead he lifted an outside fastball deep down the right field line.
As the freshman rounded first base, the ball snuck over the wall and just inside the foul pole, giving Arizona State (21-12, 9-7 Pac-12) the decisive 5-4 lead.
Will Levine tossed an uneventful bottom of the ninth for his fourth save of the season to close out Friday’s series opener against Utah (9-22, 4-12) in Salt Lake City. In a back-and-forth affair, the two teams combined for 26 hits, 21 of which were singles.
ASU starting pitcher Tyler Thornton had trouble getting the third out in the early innings. Each of Utah’s first two runs came on two-out RBI singles in the second and third innings.
Utah center fielder Jaylon McLaughlin knocked in the first run of the night on a Texas-Leaguer that barely hopped over Hunter Haas at third base. The ball trickled into left field, allowing Rykker Tom to score.
In the following frame, Thornton retired the first two Utes before running into trouble. Three straight Utah singles brought a run home, with the RBI knock coming courtesy of designated hitter Brock Rudy.
Utah hurler Justin Kelly experienced baseball’s “death by a thousand paper cuts,” in the top of the sixth. After Jack Moss led off the inning with the only extra-base hit, four Sun Devil singles plated three runs, giving ASU its first lead.
Hunter Haas, Kai Murphy, Joe Lampe and Drew Swift recorded the knocks, and all but Haas picked up an RBI.
The Sun Devil bullpen has experienced a season full of highs and lows. Friday, Tracy Smith counted on the unit to cover the final 4.2 innings of the game.
They did so masterfully. The combination of Brock Peery, Graham Osman, Cam Dennie and Levine yielded one run over that stretch.
Perhaps the team’s strength; ASU’s defense, shined again in the win. The Sun Devils turned three double plays, and didn’t record an error.
Sean McLain and Drew Swift were superb. The middle infield duo helped Thornton and the trio of Sun Devil bullpen arms out of jams throughout the evening.
ASU will look to claim the series in Saturday’s game, which is set for a 3 p.m. PST first pitch.