In what was perhaps one the most unconventional ways to win a game, ASU baseball came out in top in the first game of three, with a 2-1 victory over arch rival UA in Tucson on Friday night.
After losing three of the five games, and the series last year against UA, the stakes were upped even more for a team hungry to avenge a loss that left a bad taste for the Sun Devils (21-16, 11-8 Pac-12) in the Packard Stadium dugout back on April 9.
A relatively quiet night for the hitters on both teams quickly heated up in the fourth inning.
Redshirt junior Tucker Esmay bobbled a potential double play ball at second, allowing sophomore shortstop Kevin Newman to reach base.
The Wildcats (16-24, 6-13 Pac-12) struck first on an RBI groundout by freshman designated hitter Bobby Dalbec, scoring Newman.
Sophomore left-handed starter Brett Lilek allowed just one unearned run on three hits on seven innings, and tallying five strike outs.
Lilek escaped a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the first thanks to a double play, and encountered little trouble aside from the error in the fourth.
Sophomore center fielder Johnny Sewald, a catalyst at the top of the ASU order, had two hits and was hit by a pitch, scoring the first run for the Sun Devils Friday night.
Sewald recognized the importance of a pitcher of Lilek’s caliber keeping a game within striking distance to allow a struggling offense to finally catch fire.
“It’s huge for us that our pitching staff has done well this year,” Sewald said. “It’s always tough to go out on the road and score a bunch of runs on a Friday night.”
The Sun Devils loaded the bases on three separate occasions, but couldn’t cash in until the seventh inning.
Sophomore designated hitter RJ Ybarra came through in the clutch with a one-out sacrifice fly to score Sewald.
In a bizarre sequence, Dalbec, UA’s closer, who was brought in in the seventh inning after sophomore Colby Moffett loaded the bases, overthrew a ball on an apparent appeal play to third base.
Junior shortstop Drew Stankiewicz took off, and was awarded home, scoring what proved to be the game-winning run.
“It’s important for us to go and chase a series win, but even more important for us to come out and get the first win,” Sewald said.
Game two is set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday night between ASU and UA at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson.
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