Following a gut-wrenching defeat in the opening round of the inaugural Pac-12 Tournament to top-seeded Stanford, Arizona State (1-1) was written off and left for dead in Thursday’s elimination game against formidable foe Oregon.
Missing one of its biggest bats in Ethan Long and having exhausted what was left of Kyle Luckham in Wednesday’s loss, many saw this as the end for ASU in what has been a very disappointing campaign in Tempe. However, the eighth-seeded Sun Devils found a way once again to keep themselves alive as ASU extended their season at least one more game with a 4-2 victory over the Ducks (0-2, eliminated).
Little has gone right in Willie Bloomquist’s freshman season at the helm of Sun Devil baseball. But just when you think they’re dead, they’ve found ways to draw attention back to the club and stay in contention, usually through a deep and powerful lineup.
However, with star third baseman Ethan Long still on the sidelines, the run column had been hard to fill up as the regular season came to a close as the Sun Devils’ 12 runs in their past four games suggested. Contrary to their formula of winning all season, Arizona State rode pitching and timely hitting to their first Pac-12 Tournament win.
Entering Thursday’s elimination showdown, Bloomquist tapped sophomore right-hander Tyler Meyer as his starter with the season on the line, despite Meyer surrendering seven runs to this same Oregon squad in just three innings on Senior Day last week.
Meyer thanked Bloomquist for the second chance by taking the ball and maneuvering his way through one of the best lineups in the Pac-12. In four and two-thirds innings of work, Meyer allowed just two runs (both in the fourth inning) behind a heavy dosage of heat and velocity which sent four Oregon batters back to the bench as strikeout victims. While Meyer did get a little wild and issue five free passes, he worked his way out of trouble to set up possibly the best bullpen performance of the season.
To say the Arizona State bullpen has been the team’s Achilles heel in 2022 would be a massive understatement. Not one bullpen regular had an ERA under 5.00 in the season. And when you stack up this unit with the big bats of Oregon, one would expect some late fireworks to once again sink the Sun Devils. Christian Bodlovich, Graham Osman, Blake Pivaroff, and Brock Peery had other plans though. The Quartet of arms used in relief on Thursday combined for five and a third innings of scoreless ball while allowing just two hits.
This heroic performance would be all the Sun Devil bats would need to find a way to win. In a script flip from the late-inning collapse in the opening round against Stanford, it was Arizona State who engineered a comeback.
Trailing 2-1 into the sixth inning, little had gone right for ASU on offense and the end of the season seemed imminent until program staple Kai Murphy launched a go-ahead two-run longball over the right-field fence to give the Sun Devils a 3-2 lead.
With an insurance run in the eighth, Brock Peery secured his tenth save of the season to knock off a tournament team in Oregon and advance the Sun Devils to another elimination game on Friday, with the loser of the winner’s bracket game between Stanford and Arizona set to face off against ASU with the season once again on the line.