With the season nearing its halfway point, the ASU baseball team needs to start racking up wins if it has postseason dreams.
The Sun Devils took a big step by answering a blown save in the eighth inning by taking the lead for good in their half of the frame and beating USC on Friday night 5-3.
“The guys aren’t quitting,” ASU coach Tim Esmay said. “The guys aren’t getting consumed with where everybody thinks they should be. … The kids are competing, and they’re believing and they’re continuing to stay in the fight. And that’s all you can ask of a team.”
The eighth inning was up-and-down to say the least for the Sun Devils. They saw sophomore closer Ryan Burr blow a 3-1 lead — his first blown save of the season — and answered right back with two of their own. The most impressive part of their eighth-inning rally was that it all came with two outs.
Sophomore center fielder Johnny Sewald started it off with a singled he battled off his hands and punched the other way into left field. That came immediately after a groundout and a strikeout and his team looking deflated. Redshirt junior right fielder Trever Allen followed Sewald with a walk, setting the stage for junior first baseman Nate Causey.
Causey has been ASU’s best hitter this season. He entered the game with a .368 batting average and .451 on-base percentage, both tops on the team. He had 10 RBIs, but none of them had come during Pac-12 play.
None that is, until his single to plate Sewald gave ASU the lead it would not surrender.
“Causey’s been our guy,” Esmay said. “It was a big at-bat.”
Allen then scored to on a single by freshman catcher Brian Serven to give ASU an insurance run and a 5-3 lead.
That gave Burr a second chance, and he would not squander it, pitching a scoreless ninth and sealing the win.
ASU only needed the eighth-inning rally because of a tough-luck blown save by Burr in the top of the inning. He entered the game with a 3-1 lead and the bases loaded and one out. USC sophomore right fielder Vahn Bozoian popped the ball up to shallow right field, where it was dropped by ASU junior second baseman Drew Stankiewicz.
That brought home one, and a wild pitch by Burr tied the game. ASU answered right back in the bottom of the inning.
ASU starting pitcher Brett Lilek labored through 5 2/3 innings and walked four, but it was enough to get the job done. He matched his four walks with as many strikeouts, and only allowed one Trojan to score, handing the game to the bullpen with a lead.
In the other dugout, USC junior righty Wyatt Strahan overcame a rough beginning of the game to turn in a productive outing. He allowed one in the first, two in the third and none after that. His final line included six innings of three-run ball with six hits, five walks and four strikeouts.
ASU and USC return to Packard Stadium on Saturday night with a 6:30 p.m. first pitch and a chance for the Sun Devils to win their first home Pac-12 series. The Sun Devils will be honoring ASU baseball teams of the 1970s by wearing throwback uniforms.
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @J15Emerson