ASU baseball’s late-game collapse spells defeat on opening day for Sun Devils

The final opening day at Packard Stadium had a bit of a dream feel to it. The stands were full, the sun was shining and ASU had a lead. Then it turned into a nightmare.

ASU led 7-2 as late as the eighth inning, before surrendering seven runs in the last two innings and falling to Baylor 9-7.

“In college baseball, I don’t think you ever have the game in hand,” ASU coach Tim Esmay said. “We were playing well at that time, we were getting good at-bats, we were playing good defense up until the eighth, so I thought we were playing pretty well at that point.”
 
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Down 7-2 with only six outs left, the Bears (1-0) went on a run. ASU senior right-hander Josh McAlister allowed a base hit to four of the batters he faced and gave up three runs.

Redshirt freshman left-hander Nick Diamond came in and restored order for the Sun Devils (0-1), retiring the two batters he faced and sent the game into the ninth, with his team holding a 7-5 lead.

The ninth didn’t go as well for Diamond as the eighth did. He hit senior shortstop Langford Lawson, then threw three straight balls to senior designated hitter Grayson Porter.

Porter blasted the next pitch over the left-field wall to tie the game 7-7. Diamond hit the next batter, freshman first baseman Aaron Dodson, and Esmay pulled him in favor of freshman right-hander Hever Bueno.

Esmay said he sent Diamond out for the ninth because he pitched well in the eighth and liked what he saw from his curveball. He also said when he hit Lawson, he didn’t bring in Bueno, the righty, to face Porter, a righty, because Bueno wasn’t ready in the bullpen. Bueno had been warming in the bullpen since the eighth inning.

He then entrusted Bueno to send the game to the home-half of the ninth tied. Then Bueno allowed a single to junior third baseman Duncan Wendel. The ball bounced off the glove of redshirt junior right fielder Trever Allen and trickled away from him.

Dodson came all the way around from first to score and Wendel ended up at third, then scored on a single by the next batter, freshman left fielder Darryn Sheppard.

The error by Allen also followed a misread fly ball in the top of the eighth.

“If you play in this ballpark at this time of day, it’s hard to see the ball,” Esmay said. “In the eighth, that was a tough ball to read and he was trying to make a play in the ninth. He tried to come up and make a play and it just got by him.”

Esmay did, however, express confidence in Allen’s play in right field.

“(Allen) has played enough games in right field that that’s not a norm for him,” Esmay said.

The defensive miscues overshadowed a strong offensive showing from Allen. He homered on the first pitch he saw in the bottom of the first and finished a triple shy of the cycle.

The combo of sophomore right-hander Ryan Burr and junior right-hander Darin Gillies allowed only two runs across the first seven frames before giving way to McAlister, Diamond and Bueno.

Burr started the game for ASU, but lasted only four innings, and needing 96 pitches to do so. He allowed one run, two hits, three walks and struck out five.

Gillies came in after Burr and pitched well in relief, allowing a run on only one hit and one walk in three innings. He also struck out two.

The two teams play again Saturday at 1 p.m. with a duel between lefties: sophomore Ryan Kellogg for ASU and redshirt junior Brad Kuntz for Baylor.

Reach the reporter at justin.emerson@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @J15Emerson