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ASU Baseball: Fairfield ends Arizona State’s season at Austin Regional

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A disappointing end

Zac BonDurant

Fairfield coach Bill Currier had seen enough magic from Arizona State for one weekend. The MAAC Coach of the Year didn’t leave the game up to reliever Michael Sansone like he had on Friday night.

Instead, he went to the bullpen following a two-out double from Drew Swift, which put the tying runs in scoring position in the ninth.

Currier turned to veteran John Signore, who took over in the high pressure situation. The righty got Hunter Jump to swing over an off-speed pitch to secure the 9-7 win, ending ASU’s season.

“I’m super proud of this team. So proud,” Swift said following the season-ending defeat. “With everything that happened injury-wise, it’s tough for any team to get past a regional and what we showed this year was amazing. We were put in very tough situations, and watching the young guys’ success has been unreal.”

Fairfield gained the eventual game-winning runs in the home half of the sixth. With two men on and nobody out, ASU reliever Brady Corrigan threw a first pitch, get me over curveball to Justin Guerrera.

Guerrera unloaded on the breaking ball, blasting a three-run homer far over the left field wall in Austin.

“We knew going into the weekend that he was a guy that can hurt you,” Sun Devil coach Tracy Smith said. “Credit to him he got the pitch he was looking for and hit it out.”

It was all ASU early. The Sun Devils jumped on Fairfield starter Brycen Cafaro in the top of the second. Kai Murphy laced a two-out RBI single to left field to plate the first run of an afternoon that featured many.

Swift then greeted Cafaro on the first pitch he saw, driving a fly ball to deep left center. The ball banged high off the wall and ricocheted back towards the infield, allowing Murphy to score easily from first.

Not content with two, Jump logged his second hit of the day when he singled up the middle to score Swift.

An inning later, Nate Baez followed an Ethan Long single with his second homer in as many days. Baez, who assumed the everyday catching duties with his late-season offensive surge, finishes the season with eight long balls.

With the early 5-0 lead, and later a 6-2 advantage, it appeared for much of the early afternoon as though ASU would be able to coast into a rematch with Texas.

Fairfield had other ideas, as it put together a comeback within a few innings to tie the game at six. A fourth-inning two-run single from Mike Handal got the Stags within two, before Ryan Strollo knocked in two of his own with a single an inning later.

17 of the 18 offensive starters reached base, with the lone exception being ASU second baseman Sean McLain.

Arizona State briefly regained the lead in the top of the sixth in a very unconventional manner.

With one out and runners at second and third, an errant fastball ended up in the shirt pocket of the home plate umpire. The dead ball sent Swift trotting home as the go-ahead run.

The loss ends a tumultuous but ultimately successful 2021 campaign for the Sun Devils, given the circumstances.

For a team that lost three of its top arms in the first two weeks of the season, improbable wins and valuable experience gained are two key aspects of this season’s legacy.

ASU was the youngest team in the tournament field of 64, experience that will make this year’s freshmen seasoned veterans of the conference over the next two years.

“I told the team just now that in all my years of coaching, this season is definitely the most memorable,” Smith said. “It doesn’t take the sting away, but there’s a lot to be excited about.”