Before the first pitch in Sunday’s rubber match between the Sun Devils and the University of California, sophomore center fielder Joe Lampe told his teammates that the game was “do or die” for ASU’s season.
By that standard, the 2022 Sun Devils found themselves on life support halfway through the game, down by seven runs after another rough start for Adam Tulloch—the pitcher who had started the season as head coach Willie Bloomquist's de facto ace.
After knocking out Cal starter Ian May in the sixth, however, ASU got off the mat, rallying for 14 unanswered runs in the late innings for an improbable series-clinching—and possibly season-saving—victory, beating Cal (12-15, 5-7 Pac-12) 16-9 to improve to 13-16 overall and 5-4 in Pac-12 play.
“It was big,” Bloomquist said, “It was bigger than just the one game. We’re at that point in the season where we’ve gotta win series... after getting down huge, if you’re just being resilient and keep coming back and keep throwing punches, good things happen.”
Freshmen Nate Baez and Ryan Campos played huge roles in the comeback. Baez went 3-for-5 with 3 doubles, 3 RBI, and 3 walks. His two-run double in the sixth kicked off the Sun Devils’ rally, but it was Campos’s three-run home run over the left field wall two batters later—the first of his collegiate career—that brought ASU back within striking distance, cutting what had been a 9-2 deficit at the beginning of the inning to just 9-7.
“I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit,” Campos said. “And I just drove it. Wasn’t really trying to hit it that long... I hit it and I just ran, man. I did not even know that it was out, and then everyone yelled.”
Campos came up again in the eighth with two runners on and no out, with flame-throwing Cal right-hander Steven Zobac on the mound. Representing the go-ahead run, the freshman catcher who had been a bench player until recently fouled off eight pitches while working a 12-pitch walk to load the bases.
“The home run was obviously a great swing, but the backbreaker was the at-bat that he put on [in the eighth],” Bloomquist said. “A 12 pitch at-bat, I mean, it’s pretty impressive for a freshman to do that with the game on the line and work in a walk.”
Freshman Alex Champagne—another freshman who started the season as a reserve—slapped a single to bring the Sun Devils within one, bringing up Lampe, ASU’s leadoff hitter. Lampe tapped a slow ground ball towards Cal first baseman Nathan Matorella, but when Matorella attempted to backhand the ball and make a quick throw home for a force out, the ball instead squirted past his glove into right field.
Campos scored from second to give ASU a 10-9 lead, the crowd at Phoenix Municipal Stadium exploded in cheers along with the Sun Devils' dugout. Lampe ended up on second base with his hands on his head in disbelief at what had just happened.
“You never know what can happen if you put the ball in play,” Bloomquist said. “So you keep the pressure on the defense. And sometimes you get a lucky break, and we know this because we’ve been on the other side of that.”
ASU’s next heroics came from an even more unlikely source. After finally getting the first hit of his collegiate career in Saturday’s 14-7 loss, freshman Cam Magee was pressed into duty late in Sunday’s game when starting third baseman Ethan Long was ejected in the seventh for arguing a called strike.
Stepping up with the bases loaded after Sean McClain was hit by an 0-2 pitch—and in place of Long, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week—Magee roped a bases-clearing triple down the right-field line to give ASU a 13-9 lead and once again bring both his teammates and the rest of the home crowd to their feet.
“To start, I kind of forgot to run the first base,” Magee recalled, laughing. “I was so emotional, I was so excited.”
YES. HE. CAM.— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) April 3, 2022
BASES. CLEARING. TRIPLE.
MAGEE BLOWS IT OPEN. pic.twitter.com/4he7nHjRt4
From there, Cal’s bullpen continued to implode. Connor Sullivan, on in relief of Zobac, immediately gave up an RBI double to Conor Davis, and later a bases-loaded four-pitch walk to Campos to bring home another run.
Meanwhile, the Sun Devils had only been able to stay within reach because of some heroics from their own bullpen—namely Chase Webster, who threw four shutout innings in relief of Tulloch.
“[He was able to] land his breaking ball, keep them off balance,” Bloomquist said. “No walks, pounded, the strike zone, landed his off-speed pitches for strikes and kept them off balance. So I’m extremely happy with the job he did.”
Tulloch’s continued struggles proved to be the one big negative in Sunday’s game, nearly costing the Sun Devils their chance at a crucial series win in conference play. The struggling lefty allowed the game’s first run in just two batters during Cal’s two-run first inning, then allowed three more in the third and four more in the fifth. The redshirt junior finished with 12 hits and 9 earned runs allowed in 4+ innings pitched.
The Sun Devils will return to Phoenix Muni on Tuesday for a pivotal matchup against their arch-rivals, the University of Arizona Wildcats, in the first Territorial Cup baseball matchup of the season. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. Arizona time.