ASU baseball stumbles late in loss to Tennessee
A seven-inning outing from sophomore Ryan Kelloggand a three hit night from sophomore first baseman David Graybill was not enough for ASU baseball, as the Sun Devils (7-5) fell to Tennessee 6-5.
Early, Kellogg dueled with sophomore Andrew Lee in what was a low-scoring game. Despite an impressive line over seven strong innings, including five strikeouts, no walks and three earned runs, Kellogg took the loss.
ASU coach Tim Esmay was disappointed by the defensive effort.
"It's unfortunate, because Kellogg threw really well tonight," Esmay said.
Redshirt junior second baseman Tucker Esmay had two costly errors that resulted in Volunteer (13-1) runs – one a botched grounder up the middle, and the other a wild throw on a slow roller to the right of the mound.
"We've been making those plays," Esmay said. "Sometimes in baseball that catches up to you a little bit."
The Sun Devil offense took advantage of a leadoff walk by Lee, as sophomore shortstop Jordan Aboites drove in sophomore left fielder Christopher Beall with a double deep into the gap in left-center.
"I was proud of our guys, we still had the winning run at the the plate," Esmay said. "I felt that our guys stayed engaged and kept battling."
There were two controversial calls on close plays at the plate, and both times the Sun Devil runners were called out.
Graybill frequented the spotlight for his offense, going 3-for-4 with a walk, and defense, turning an unassisted double play, but gambling on the basepaths did not pay off for Graybill.
Graybill was caught stealing second and also thrown out at home on a wild play in the sixth inning, trying to advance from third on an overthrow, but he was gunned down by sophomore left fielder Christin Stewart.
However, Esmay was not deterred by his team's inability to get the running game going, and did not think that the Sun Devils were being too aggressive on the base paths.
"They did a good job of picking, sometimes you take the gamble and go with that, that's playing aggressive baseball, and we'll keep doing that." Esmay said.
Esmay didn't overlook the plays at the plate, though.
"We had a couple guys thrown out at the plate. All of those things (are important) in a game like that," Esmay said. "Anytime you get a chance to score runs, we call those game-changers. They (Tennessee) did a good job of handling the baseball, they had two really good relays and threw the ball accurate to the plate."
In a matchup between two ranked teams, Esmay said that the matchup with Tenessee felt like a playoff series.
"The atmosphere is great. It was another two teams that were getting after each other, and see who would open up the door," Esmay said. "Unfortunately, we opened up the door in that seventh inning."
Freshman right-hander Eder Erives pitched two innings of one-run ball, and struck out four of the eight batters he faced after relieving Kellogg in the eighth.
Esmay was pleased with Erives' outing.
"He didn't pitch at all in the fall, so this is his first taste of Division I, in the fire," Esmay said. "He's got some poise, some confidence, and he's gonna be really good for us."
After Tennessee took the lead in the seventh inning, freshman first baseman Nathaniel Maggio added a pair of insurance runs, with double in the eighth and two RBIs, the second of which would eventually be the game-deciding run, giving the Volunteers a 6-3 lead.
ASU broke sophomore reliever Andy Cox's 15.2 inning scoreless streak, after junior designated hitter Nate Causey scored on sophomore third baseman Dalton DiNatale's single, cutting Tennessee's lead to 6-4. The Sun Devils added a run on an overthrow on what would have been a game-ending double play, and DiNatale was awarded home.
That was as close as the Sun Devils would come to tying the Volunteers in the ninth inning, falling 6-5.
Freshman reliever Hunter Martin pitched 2.2 scoreless innings in the win. Sophomore closer Drake Owenby relieved Martin in the ninth, and earned his fourth save of the season for Tennessee.
Despite the loss, Esmay said he's looking forward to the rubber match Sunday.
"Tomorrow is a response day for us," Esmay said. "It was a tough one tonight, we had good at bats all night."
ASU plays Tennessee at 12:30 p.m. MST on Sunday in the series finale at Packard Stadium.
Reach the reporter at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @modrich_22