After a long, hard-fought win on Saturday night, the ASU baseball team looked to complete a weekend sweep for the first time this season. Despite a good first inning and even better final frames, it could not pull it off.
The Sun Devils (17-12, 7-5 Pac-12) fell 8-7 to USC on Sunday afternoon at Packard Stadium in Tempe. Sophomore relief pitcher Brooks Kriske got the win, junior starter Darin Gillies was saddled with the loss and sophomore reliever Kyle Davis earned his third save of the season.
The Trojans (15-15, 4-8 Pac-12) got off to an early start, taking advantage of a fielding error by sophomore third baseman Dalton DiNatale and pushed across two unearned runs in the top of the first inning.
ASU responded quickly, however, notching three runs in their half of the inning. Starting pitcher junior right-hander Nigel Nootbaar faced just four batters, but walked three of them and threw three wild pitches, throwing nine strikes out of 24 pitches. All three batters he let on base scored.
The Trojans retook the lead in the second inning, scoring two runs thanks to a triple by redshirt junior center fielder Omar Cotto and a double by senior third baseman Kevin Swick.
The damage in the inning could have been worse for the Sun Devils. The Trojans had the bases loaded with one out, but Gillies bore down and struck out junior second baseman Dante Flores and got sophomore left fielder AJ Ramirez to ground out to second base to end the threat.
Gillies’ day came to and end in the third inning after another rocky inning. Gillies allowed two more runs to cross the plate in the frame before being replaced by redshirt senior righty Zak Miller with two men on base with two outs. Miller finished the inning by getting freshman catcher Jeremy Martinez to fly out to right field.
The new pitcher in the fifth inning was freshman right-hander Seth Martinez, but it seemed no matter who ASU put on the mound, the Trojans were able to hit him. Martinez was able to get two outs sandwiching a hit batsman, but then Martinez and Flores singled him in to add to the lead.
The Sun Devils finally responded in the bottom of the seventh inning. After sophomore pitcher Marc Huberman got two quick outs, singles by junior first baseman Nate Causey, freshman catcher Brian Serven and junior left fielder Jake Peevyhouse loaded the bases. USC dipped into its bullpen, bringing in senior pitcher James Guillen to throw to sophomore pinch-hitter RJ Ybarra.
Going into the at-bat, Ybarra was focused on doing his job and doing what he can to help the team.
“I was just thinking the same thing I’ve been thinking the past few weeks, just going up there hitting the ball hard,” Ybarra said. “I knew it was going to be something slow, something moving, so I was just trying to get a pitch over the middle.”
The burly backstop did what he has been doing all series, launched a moon shot double to left-center field clearing the bases and bringing the deficit to two.
The eighth started out with a bang, as DiNatale drilled the first pitch he saw over the right field fence to bring the deficit to one and chase Guillen from the game.
ASU held USC scoreless in the top of the ninth, but could not muster anything offensively as they came up just short of the sweep.
Despite winning the series, coach Tim Esmay said he believes his team missed an opportunity to get an important conference win.
“When you have an opportunity to sweep, you need to sweep,” Esmay said. “No, I’m not content. We had a chance to get back a game in the Pac, and now we have to get it back somewhere else.”
Ybarra knows the team has to just keep its momentum moving forward.
“The midweek games are just as important as the Pac series, especially against Tucson,” Ybarra said. “We just want to go ahead and beat those guys like we did last time, just because we need to keep the momentum going.”
The Sun Devils will next play on Wednesday night when UA travels to Tempe. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
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