Say what you want about college baseball, but the Cactus League had nothing on Phoenix Municipal Stadium from a competitive standpoint on Saturday night.
What looked to be an evening of smooth sailing early on for ASU baseball (1-1) turned into a no-punches-held clash with Dixie State (1-1), ultimately resulting in a 7-6 Trailblazer victory over the Devils in extra innings at a packed Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
“We try to preach to not beat [ourselves],” head coach Willie Bloomquist said. “Obviously that did not happen as planned tonight.”
Another day, Another debut
Cal State Fullerton transfer Kyle Luckham received the starting nod from Bloomquist and pitching coach Sam Peraza for game two of the opening weekend series.
While this was Luckham’s Sun Devil debut, it was not the first time he toed the rubber at Phoenix Municipal Stadium at the collegiate level. Before transferring to ASU this offseason, Luckham started against the Devils for Fullerton last March. He battled, allowing two earned runs (two-run shot from Kai Murphy), before imploding in the seventh, allowing three more runs and not recording an out while earning the loss.
Saturday’s debut felt eerily similar.
Luckham hung around the strike zone and pitched with impressive pace, never letting the pitch clock get below 10 seconds (starts at 20). He worked through three scoreless frames before running into any trouble.
Lampe smokes a triple to right. He's on fire. Double away from the cycle.— House of Sparky (@HouseOfSparky) February 20, 2022
This Lamp(e) caught fire!
Meanwhile, Bloomquist manufactured multiple runs through his iteration of the lineup card.
If you questioned why speedster Joe Lampe was positioned in the two-hole by Bloomquist to start the year, his performance Saturday night may have you thinking otherwise.
Lampe, who recorded two hits in the opener Friday, saw the ball well all night, going 4-for-5 with a homer, a double, and two RBI. Both RBI came in his first two at-bats, and had helped ASU go up 3-0.
“I just feel really good at the plate right now with my rhythm and timing,” Lampe said. “Everything’s kind of on point. I’ve got my mind in that mode where I just can not, like, strike out. As long as I get my natural movements to get to that certain spot, I can be as fluent and normal as my body wants to be.”
Then the tide changed
In the fourth, the Trailblazer top of the order threatened with two outs, and down 3-0. Designated hitter Will Chapman smoked a single to left with two runners on, where Will Rogers, who recorded the first two outs of the inning, fielded the grounder and unheaved a throw home to test the runner rounding third. The throw sailed over the head of Campos, and the run scored.
Backing up the errant toss was Luckham, who picked off Chapman trying to reach second base. A sour play turned into (what looked like) a momentum-swinger for ASU that held off a potential crooked inning.
Bloomquist credited Luckham for the heads-up play.
“Obviously not how you draw it up,” he said. “We work on plays at the plate, that’s nothing foreign.”
The tide did not turn for the better, and the Devils went down in order in response.
Luckham hit his buzzsaw in the fifth, allowing two runners to reach scoring position before ultimately getting pulled for lefty reliever Graham Osman. Osman, one of the more respected southpaws returning from last season, could not get into a groove. A pair of wild pitches plated Luckham’s runners, and the game was tied at 3-3. Osman let up one more run for Dixie State’s first lead of the game at 4-3.
Righty Tyler Meyer replaced Osman for the sixth and seventh innings. The Stanislaus State transfer made his first collegiate pitching appearance since 2020, and largely impressed. His one earned run came on a sac-fly RBI that limited damage in the seventh.
Lampe could not stay silent another time through the order in the bottom half of the sixth, ripping a double into the right field corner to lead off, He reached third on a booted-ball error by the right fielder Tyson Fisher.
Ethan Long followed up Lampe’s extra base hit with his first (of likely many) RBI of the campaign on a hard-hit sac-fly to left to knot things up at 4-4. Blake Pivaroff then drove in a run on a double-play ball to take the lead 5-4.
Chaos. Pivaroff grounds to first, ball is booted with runners in limbo. Force out recorded at first, and Davis scores amongst pickle-confusion with Tobias between second and third. Devils take the lead, inning over.— House of Sparky (@HouseOfSparky) February 20, 2022
Over the span of the last three innings, ASU used four relievers (Webster, Peery, Marshall, Cacchione). Chase Webster allowed the go-ahead run, while Brock Peery picked up where he left off Friday, hitting a batter and giving up a base hit before recording his lone out of the night. If pitching coach Sam Peraza holds to his word of strike-throwers receiving the bulk load of innings for ASU, Peery could see the end of the bench sooner rather than later.
Peery plunks one, then gives up a single. pic.twitter.com/enS9KhmgeC— House of Sparky (@HouseOfSparky) February 20, 2022
ASU trailed 6-5 going into the bottom of the ninth, when Kai Murphy led off with a bang. Murphy launched a deep fly ball to center that popped out of the center fielder Jagun Leavitt’s glove at the back of the warning track. He would reach second, advance to third on a pinch hit bunt from Alex Champagne, then score on a fielder’s choice ground ball from Sean McLain.
“Yeah I thought I [got a hold of that] one,” Murphy said. “The ball doesn’t fly as good in February as it does a little later in the year. I thought I put a good swing on it.”
Extra, Extra (Innings)
Extra innings could not have gone more horribly for ASU. Cacchione fielded a swinging-bunt by the leadoff man that he hurled into the stands behind the first base line. He could be seen pounding the turf immediately after the throw.
After some small ball, Dixie State pushed across that run, and ASU responded with three straight flyouts to end the game.
“There [are] a few guys that are trying to do too much,” Bloomquist said. “We started a message during the game to start putting together solid at-bats. [We have] guys trying to make stuff happen instead of putting together good at-bats and passing it on to the next guy.”
The series tilt will take place Sunday at 12:30 pm AZ time at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.