With their spot inaugural Pac-12 Baseball Tournament next week in safe hands, Arizona State (25-28, 13-15 Pac-12) entered its final regular season series against Washington State (25-26, 10-18 Pac-12) with a scenario where winning would be nice, but not a necessity.
On Thursday night in Pullman, Washington, the Sun Devils put in an apathetic offensive performance and spoiled a brilliant start from Kyle Luckham in a 2-0 loss in the series opener.
This was not the same team that lit up scoreboards with a surplus of power and run totals in the month of April. The Sun Devils were no match for Cougars’ starter Grant Taylor, who pitched the entire game and allowed little opportunity for the Sun Devils to even threaten his supremacy.
It was a career day for Taylor, who matched his collegiate-high of seven strikeouts and provided the Cougars their first shutout since 2018. Outside of the two hits, Taylor allowed just two other baserunners.
On the other side, Luckham was dealing. This was as close to a true pitcher’s duel as Arizona State has been in all season. Through three frames, neither side had more than crumbs on offense.
The game moved to the fourth inning in a scoreless, hitless tie. The top of the order would lead it off for Arizona State, and these have been the spots where the Sun Devils have started to exert their force in 2022. A formidable series of batters combined with the second time through the order has been a productive combination for a supernova offense.
Even after Lampe was retired by Taylor, the Sun Devils sparked some life with a one-out base hit up the middle. But as far as scoring threats go, this was as good as it got all night. The next two batters struck out to end the inning, and the Cougars would score a pair in the home half for the only runs of the game and a 2-0 lead.
Unlike the offense, the Sun Devils’ defense most certainly showed up behind Luckham. The starter would find trouble in the fifth, and runners would reach the corners off two hits with two outs. As the Sun Devils’ starter sputtered, the defense would appear.
But the heart-stopping play by Rodgers could not help the flatlined offense, which was stewing in its on malaise that the Sun Devils simply couldn’t shake the rest of the way.
Joe Lampe, who entered the contest with Arizona State’s third longest hit streak in the last 12 years at 21 games, saw that come to an end with a hitless night. The next five batters in the lineup combined for five strikeouts and two hits.
For all the lamenting about great offensive performances undone by spotty pitching, Arizona State got the cards flipped on Thursday night. Not since March 20 against Oregon State has the Sun Devil pitching staff performed that well in relation to runs allowed, and the offense gave them nothing.
The Sun Devils are up against the specter of historical success in the fledgling tenure of Willie Bloomquist. In this century, which the Sun Devil program entered as a perennial powerhouse, the NCAA postseason has been missed just three times. Two of those absences came in the last five years.
It’s a slippery slope from the top of the mountain. Ask Nebraska how its football program is doing recently. Growing pains were expected in the first year under Bloomquist, but the hole has been dug, and the only way to the NCAA Tournament is to win the conference tournament next week.
This series was supposed to serve as a momentum-builder for that critical stretch of games close to home in Scottsdale. But after Thursday night, the Sun Devils aren’t looking for momentum, their looking for some life.
First pitch for the second game Friday night will come at 4 p.m. on the Pac-12 Network.