On a night that started with honoring the 1981 NCAA national championship team, the present-day ASU Baseball squad (25-26, 13-13 in Pac-12 play) gave Sun Devil fans plenty to cheer about as well, rallying for a 6-4 comeback victory to even a crucial series against Oregon (30-21, 14-12).
“[We] came out with a little bit more urgency tonight, which was good, special day,” head coach Willie Bloomquist said. “With the ‘81 team being here, a lot of great alumns, the last team to win a national title here, them being present just kind of drives home the point that that’s where we want to get to at some point.”
Kyle Luckham tossed seven solid innings, scattering 10 hits but only allowing 4 runs and adding 5 strikeouts with zero walks. It’s Luckham’s second straight start in which he went seven frames and the third time he’s done so in his past four starts.
“I really try to pride myself on not walking guys and as being like a pitch-to-contact type of guy,” Luckham said. “The defense behind me, they’re making plays. I just gonna keep feeding it to them and I’ll trust them no matter what.”
The junior transfer from Fullerton Junior College sailed through his first four innings of work but ran into trouble in the fifth, giving up two singles and a double before surrenduring a two-out, two-run home run to Ducks first baseman Brennan Milone. That capped off a four-run inning that turned an early 3-0 Sun Devil lead into a 4-3 deficit.
“He’s kicking himself for making a couple of not great 0-2 pitches,” said Bloomquist, “And gave up a couple of hits that he shouldn’t have. But you know, he settled in, tried to keep it somewhat small and bounced back in the sixth and seventh. You give us seven innings and keep us in the game like that, you’re doing your job and he’s been outstanding all year in doing that.”
ASU’s offense struck back in the bottom of the sixth. Sophomore utilityman Nate Baez was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning then scampered home to tie the game on a double from redshirt senior first baseman Conor Davis. Redshirt sophomore outfielder Kai Murphy gave the Sun Devils the lead for good with an RBI single to score Davis, then Murphy himself scored on a double in the right-center field game off the bat of freshman outfielder Will Rogers.
Sophomores Blake Pivaroff and Brock Peery threw scoreless eighth and ninth innings, respectively, to close out the game. Peery’s ninth save of the season provided a special full-circle moment for the many members of the 1981 Sun Devil team on hand at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Peery is named after his father Noah’s baseball coach at ASU, the late Jim Brock, who also coached that 1981 team and whose widow Patsy Brock is still a program fixture and was on hand for Saturday’s pregame festivities. Peery is the first member of the ASU Baseball program to wear Jim Brock’s old no. 33 since Brock died in 1994, and received Patsy Brock’s blessing to do so.
As Peery trotted in from the Sun Devils bullpen to take the ball in the ninth inning, Bloomquist—who has repeatedly stressed the importance of leaning into the history of ASU Baseball since his first press conference as head coach last year—took a moment to stop and reflect.
“I kind of got a little emotional for a second, because it’s just, man, it’s only baseball can do that,” Bloomquist said. “Anybody that knows baseball and has been around it long enough knows that there’s divine intervention all around us in this game... I think no. 33 is probably looking down and smiling today.”
After every player in the ASU dugout stood and applauded for each member of the 1981 team as they were introduced pregame, the 2022 team wasted little time making their mark early in Saturday’s game. Redshirt sophomore shortstop Sean McLain and freshman catcher Ryan Campos cranked back-to-back first-inning doubles to bring home the game’s first run, and Campos later scored on an RBI single from Davis. Redshirt sophomore center fielder Joe Lampe added a towering solo home run in the bottom of the second—his team-high 11th of the year—to give the Sun Devils an early 3-0 lead.
“The home run came with two strikes,” Bloomquist said, “And he battled off two or three really tough borderline pitches to get himself one that he could handle and didn’t miss that one. So that’s just him maturing as a hitter and becoming a better player.”
Davis finished 2-4 with 2 RBIs and a run scored, but was pulled late after reaggravating his right hamstring injury. The sixth-year senior has alternated between designated hitter and his usual spot at first base as he tries to play through the injury in his final year of eligibility, and Bloomquist said postgame that Davis would likely start at DH on Sunday if he feels healthy enough to play.
“I don’t even know how to put it into words,” an emotional Davis said after Saturday’s game. “I’m just going to keep doing whatever I have to do, whether it’s DH, whether it’s pinch-hit, whatever it is, I just I want these guys to learn that the relationships you build in the locker room, and experiences you have from a team like this, they’re never gonna go away. It’s just important that I go out the way I want to. Whatever I’m gonna do, I’m gonna stay out there and compete as much as I can.”
The Sun Devils can now tie Oregon in the Pac-12 standings with a win Sunday in what Davis has labeled “the biggest game of the season”. A win would also guarantee ASU the tiebreaker over the Ducks, meaning that they would be in the driver’s seat for fifth place in the Pac-12 with just one regular-season series left before the inaugural conference tournament on May 25.