TEMPE, Ariz. – In what was the Sun Devils biggest series in the Willie Bloomquist era thus far, No. 20 Arizona State (29-18, 14-9 Pac-12) was swept by No.7 Stanford (31-13, 18-6 Pac-12) after pitching woes continued and offensive production couldn’t match the Cardinal.
With Pac-12 title implications going in prior to the three game set, the Sun Devils sat only one game back for the top spot from the perennial powerhouse. Arizona State had a chance to dethrone a Stanford program that made back to back College World Series appearances the last two seasons, but the Cardinal championship pedigree showed as they took care of business in Tempe.
Under Bloomquist’s guidance, the program has gone through immense growth, especially during a second season filled with ecstatic victories and sprinkled with unpleasant showings. While this was the first time in two months the Devil’s were swept, Bloomquist’s squad traded blows in all three games with an experienced, Omaha-traveled program.
Friday: Arizona State 6, Stanford 8
On Friday night, Arizona State faced Stanford’s ace, senior left handed pitcher Quinn Mathews. The tall left hander featured a mix of pitches that kept the Sun Devil’s bats quiet enough to earn his sixth victory on the season.
Scoring began in the bottom of the third inning when freshman center fielder Isaiah Jackson hammered a ball straight to center field for a solo home run. The home run was Jackson’s eighth on the year and gave the Sun Devils their first hit on the night.
However, Stanford responded in the top of the fourth with a scoring spurt of their own. Junior third baseman Tommy Troy began his ferocious series with a solo home run down the right field line to tie things up.
Later in the inning, another Cardinal scored off a double. Then, Stanford began to explode off junior left handed pitcher Timmy Manning. Manning lost control of his fastball, leaving pitches in the heart of the plate for an experienced Stanford lineup that feasted off heaters all series.
A single produced two more runs from junior second baseman Drew Bowser and pushed the Stanford lead to three.
Manning’s outing was cut short after collecting two outs in the fourth on only 64 pitches. Manning went 3.2 IP, allowing six hits, four runs, and striking out six.
Junior right handed pitcher Brock Peery relieved him.
The outing was centered around several mistakes in the zone with fastballs in which the Cardinal capitalized. The short outing from an Arizona State pitcher became a common theme all series long after a disappointing showing in Oregon last weekend from ASU starters.
“We just got to be better,” said Bloomqusit. “We’re playing better teams right now than we were early on. There’s a reason why Stanford’s a top-ten team in the country, they can hit a fastball. If we can’t locate a breaking ball, we’re going to be in trouble.”
Freshman right fielder Nick McLain answered with a two run shot of his own in the bottom of the fifth that cut the lead to one. McLain now has seven home runs on the year while batting .387 in only 15 games played. McLain has been a steady fixture toward the top of Bloomquist’s lineup card since his Arizona State debut on April 11 against Grand Canyon.
Throughout the series, Stanford responded immediately to any Sun Devil momentum, a true sign of an experienced ball club. Junior left fielder Alberto Rios gave some cushion to the Stanford lead in the top of the sixth after hitting his first home run of the night.
A comeback effort began in the bottom of the sixth with the Sun Devils scoring three runs on three hits and a costly error committed by Troy at third. The rally put Arizona State ahead as they still battled Mattews in the late innings.
The seventh inning for Stanford set them over the top, kick started by a leadoff double from junior centerfielder Eddie Park. Troy got plunked to put two runners on, and the long ball gave the Cardinal the eventual dagger two batters later. Rio’s second blast of the night capped off a 4-5 night for the power hitting righty and stole the win for the Cardinal in a late inning resurgence.
“We can’t throw breaking balls in the middle of the plate, we have to be able to locate,” said Bloomquist. “At the end of the day, you can get away with that against other teams, but against top-ten teams like them, you can’t.”
Matthews did not make an appearance in the ninth. His finished the night with eight hits, six runs, three errors and 11 strikeouts through 121 pitches in eight innings.
Stanford turned the ball over to junior left handed pitcher Ryan Bruno who collected three outs in the ninth as Stanford took the first game of the series.
Saturday: Arizona State 11, Stanford 12
Saturday night was a seesaw affair as loud barrels from both squads resulted in 28 combined hits and 23 total runs scored. The game included five lead changes and pitching became a premium as both sides struggled to keep balls off the outfield grass and inside the ballpark.
Junior right handed pitcher Khristain Curtis started for the Sun Devils and hoped to set the tone after a deflating loss the night prior. Curtis was tattooed early when Troy, the second batter of the game, blasted a solo shot to center, giving him his second homer of the series.
Stanford ran in another score in the top of the second before the Sun Devils roared back.
Junior second baseman Luke Keaschall added to his home run tally by crushing a fastball upstairs for a solo home run. Keaschall’s season has been steady with production for the Sun Devils, batting .364 average with 68 hits, 16 home runs and 50 RBI.
“If they don’t draft him, they’re stupid,” said Bloomqusit on Keaschall. “If you don’t take him, you’re going to regret it and wish you did. (They) said the same thing about Dustin Pedroia. Try to find a flaw, if you guys (scouts) want a big leaguer that’s going to be there for a long time, draft him.”
According to Bloomquist Keaschall had been ‘sick as a dog’ for the past two days, almost not earning a start in the series due to a 103-degree fever.
“He made zero excuses,” said Bloomquist “The kid comes to play every day regardless if he’s sick, wounded or hurt. I think in today’s day in age, that’s very tough to find.”
The inning continued for the Sun Devils as Jackson doubled in a run, McLain singled in two, and freshman shortstop Luke Hill hit a three run home run to round off a six run eruption at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
A clean inning was tossed from Curtis in the third, fanning the final two Stanford hitters.
Keaschall’s spot was up again to lead off the bottom of the third. This time, Keaschall golfed a pitch down low into the Stanford bullpen in left field to extend the Sun Devil lead. He leads the Pac-12 in home runs and leads the nation in doubles with 23, seven more than any Pac-12 hitter. Keaschall is now one of only four players in the country with 20 doubles and 10 home runs on the season.
“He’s (just) a baseball player,” Bloomquist said. “He’s a character guy, loves the game. Again, I don’t know too many other guys that play with the same intensity.”
Stanford had a thunderous response in the top of the fourth for whatever momentum was created by ASU.
A two run home run, a run scoring single and two run double knocked Curtis out of the game and erased a five run deficit. The Cardinal barrels were contagious with five consecutive hits before Curtis was pulled.
Curtis recorded eight hits, eights runs, one strikeout and one walk through 63 total pitches.,
He was responsible for the two runners inherited by sophomore right handed pitcher Jonah Gilbin. Gilbin’s first pitch to Stanford’s junior first baseman, Carter Graham, was gapped for a double plating two more runs which added to Curtis’ earned total.
Gilbin then surrendered a run-scoring single, scoring Graham and making it seven Stanford batters in a row to reach base via hits.
Again, another response by the home side gave the Sun Devils a one run lead after six innings of play. Singles from Hill and sophomore first baseman Jacob Tobias scored two and a sacrifice fly from McLain scored one.
After Stanford scored a run in the sixth, the score was tied heading into the eighth inning.
In a game that was filled with flashes of runs and heavy traffic on the base paths, a ground ball double play off the bat of Stanford’s Rios scored the run from third base and gave the Cardinal the go ahead run to win.
“At the end of the day, we’re neck and neck with these guys (Stanford),” said Bloomquist. “We’re close but we’re not there yet.”
Sunday: Arizona State 4, Stanford 9
Sunday’s matinee action was a more tame affair. Again, Stanford’s late efforts sealed a series sweep and a firmer hold of first place in the Pac-12.
The day began with junior left handed pitcher Ross Dunn getting into a bases loaded jam in the top of the first inning. However, a ground ball double play avoided a catastrophic start for the Sun Devils.
In the bottom frame, a base-clearing homer from Tobias sent three runners home and gave Arizona State the start it was looking for.
The lead was short lived for the Sun Devils, however, as Troy muscled a ball to right center in the top of the third for a homer, his third of the series.
In the top of the sixth inning, sophomore designated hitter Jake Sapien hit a two-run home run to tie the game as the Arizona State bullpen squandered the lead.
Senior right fielder Wyatt Crenshaw’s solo home run cut the lead down to one run in the sixth. Again, Arizona State was within striking distance late in the game against the top-10 opponent.
With two outs in the ninth, Graham backspun a fastball over the wall for a two-run home run. The Sun Devils were one out away from going into the bottom of the ninth down one run.
The final blow to Arizona State’s hopes came two batters later when Rios homered, adding two more runs and stretching the Cardinal lead to four. The Sun Devils went down in the ninth to finish an agonizing series.
“I don’t feel good about getting swept, that stings obviously,” said Bloomqusit. “But we were in every single game pretty much.”
The Sun Devils will play a three game set at USC, beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Friday at Dedeaux Field.
“Our guys aren’t going to quit, they’re going to battle,” Bloomquist said. “That’s the standard here. If you’re going to give in and throw in the towel, you’re not going to play at Arizona State. They did fight, they did battle but at the end of the day that’s three tough losses that will sting a little bit. We’ve got to turn the page and get back to playing winning baseball.”