Last Sunday in Tennessee, it was freshman pitcher Ryan Kellogg’s stage in his first career start.
Thursday, it was fellow freshman pitcher Brett Lilek’s time to shine and the lefty from Chicago one-upped Kellogg.
Kellogg threw five solid innings leading the No. 25 ASU baseball team to a 3-2 victory over No. 2 Arkansas.
Lilek was sharp all night, commanding the strike zone and looking poised against the preseason No. 1 Razorbacks (7-2).
“It was the first start of my collegiate career, so I was a little nervous going out there,” Lilek said. “But I knew that if I just threw strikes, lived low in the zone and threw all my pitches for strikes, it would be tough for them to score a few runs off of us.”
Lilek ran into trouble in the second, though, loading the bases with no outs.
Instead of wilting under the pressure, Lilek fired back with his best shot, striking out three straight Razorback hitters to end the threat.
Sun Devil head coach Tim Esmay said Lilek’s second inning performance in the regional-type atmosphere. It was gritty and he was proud of Lilek given the circumstances.
“That inning was a game changer,” Esmay said. “You’ve got to remember now, this kid was pitching against Chicago high schoolers last year.”
The Sun Devils (5-2) took the lead off Arkansas junior ace Ryne Stanek in the first inning courtesy of a James McDonald RBI single.
McDonald extended his hitting streak to seven games with the single and knew the run was important facing Stanek, a probable first round pick in next year’s draft.
“I was just trying to stay within myself,” McDonald said. “I knew it was a big situation and our team needed it.”
The Sun Devils added another run off Stanek in the third inning after senior catcher Max Rossiter singled to left, extending his hitting streak to six games.
After that, the Sun Devil bats were silenced by Stanek, who gave up only the two runs in 5.2 innings of work.
“I walked out of that game going ‘that kid is pretty good,’” Esmay said. “We aren’t going to face anything better than that on a Friday night.”
The Razorbacks cut the deficit in half in the fifth when freshman outfielder Tyler Spoon hit an RBI single off Lilek.
The game remained 2-1 until the bottom of the eighth and the Sun Devils need to score a much needed insurance run.
The tag team of McDonald and Rossiter stepped to the call again. McDonald doubled down the left field line with two outs scoring Rossiter to extend the Sun Devil lead to two once again.
“Once Rossiter got on base, I was definitely excited. I was still trying to get a good pitch to hit and he gave me one,” McDonald said.
The Sun Devils look the two-run lead to the ninth but freshman pitcher Ryan Burr got into trouble early, allowing the tying base runners on with no outs.
It was Burr’s third inning of work and Esmay chose to leave the freshman in to close out the game even though senior pitcher Matt Dunbar was ready to go in the bullpen.
“He (Burr) was throwing really well and we’ve got this four-game tournament so we just wanted the young kid to get out there,” Esmay said.
Esmay’s decision paid off and Burr was able to escape the jam with only one run and preserved the Sun Devil lead for his first career save.
The save also sealed the Sun Devils first win over a No. 2 ranked opponent since 2011.
“I think it’s huge for us,” Esmay said. “I think it proves around the country that we can play.”
The night belonged to Lilek, though, and he can’t wait to sit back and enjoy the victory.
“I’m not showing it right now, but I’m pretty excited about it,” Lilek said. “Later tonight it will come out for sure.”
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