It didn’t come easy, but ASU baseball was determined to grind out a 3-2 win against California Friday night.
The latest 10-inning walk off victory for the Sun Devils (18-13, 8-5 Pac-12) came by way of sophomore left-fielder Chris Beall. The hero of the night had two hits and a diving catch in shallow left to end the fifth inning.
Coach Tim Esmay acknowledged that both teams had multiple chances to convert baserunners into runs, but failed.
“It was a battle of missed opportunities tonight,” Esmay said. “It was also a matter of guys making big pitches in big spots.”
To open the game, freshman starting pitcher Brett Lilek came out scorching, locating his pitches at will and using a variety of fastballs and offspeed pitches. His command and ability to get ahead of counts early gave Cal (14-16, 3-7 Pac-12) hitters very little to work with.
“Going up there, I wasn’t trying to get a hit, I was just trying to move (Peevyhouse) over to third base and let the guys behind me do the job and get him in,” Beall said.
ASU struck early this time around, when sophomore center fielder Johnny Sewald was hit by a pitch to lead off the game. Junior first baseman Nate Causey’s hard grounder to second base advanced Sewald to third, setting up sophomore designated hitter RJ Ybarra, who knocked him in for a two-out RBI single. Ybarra recorded his 27th RBI, passing sophomore third baseman Dalton DiNatale for the lead in that category.
On the pitching end, one of the few blemishes of Lilek’s seven innings pitched was the first of his two earned runs. A home run to senior first baseman Devon Rodriguez to right evened the game at one run apiece.
The Sun Devils almost walked off in the ninth with a win, but Causey was called out on a grounder by DiNatale for runner interference.
Esmay was satisfied with the ruling of the controversial call.
“They got the call right,” Esmay said. “Causey’s either gotta stop, or run around him. The rule is, you’ve got to give the fielder an opportunity to make a play.”
Regardless, ASU responded and came through with clutch hits again in the tenth to set up the game-winning rally for Beall.
“(There was) a little frustration, we thought we had it,” Beall said. “We decided we were going to get it done in the next inning,”
While the offensive effort was a departure from the high-scoring contests ASU has become accustomed to of late, the Sun Devil order delivered from top to bottom when it mattered most.
Sophomore Jordan Aboites, a part-time shortstop, made an intuitive play to halt a Cal rally, fielding a bunt going to his left and flipping it over to DiNatale to get the lead runner, which proved to be crucial in a one-run game.
Esmay and Aboites both agreed that his height and agile frame enabled him to make the athletic play.
“Being low to the ground definitely helps me,” Aboites said.
Aside from the flashy plays by Beall and Aboites, Esmay said that the improved defensive performance was key in the Sun Devils’ victory Friday night.
Lilek lulled the Cal bats to sleep early, but the Golden Bears would refuse to go away quietly late. In the seventh inning, Sophomore first baseman Nick Halamandaris stroked a leadoff double to the wall in right center for Cal, and junior third baseman Chris Paul advanced him with a textbook sacrifice bunt to get him to third.
Aboites pitched two sensational innings to keep the game tied. His two strikeouts both came against freshman right fielder Brian Celsei.
“That slider changes at eye-level, and he made some really good ones in that sequence there,” Esmay said.
He also earned a vote of confidence from Esmay, giving sophomore closer Ryan Burr the night off.
Esmay said Burr was ready to go, but he elected to go with a committee of Aboites and little-used redshirt junior Cory Bernard, who, upon returning from injury, picked up his first win of the year in a non-save situation.
“It was a big win on a Friday night, and a great way to start the series off,” Aboites said.
Game two is set for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Packard Stadium.
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