ASU drops series opener to Arizona 6 to 5

The Sun Devils are trying to avoid the program's first losing season since 1985

ASU baseball entertained rival Arizona for the first of three games Thursday night to close out the 2017 home schedule. 

Entering the night, the Sun Devils (23-27, 8-17) needed to go 5-1 in the final six games to finish with a winning record. Instead, Arizona won 6-5 in front of 2,619 at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

ASU rallied for a run in the ninth, but three unearned runs in the seventh was the difference. Field manager Tracy Smith’s ballclub needs to win their final five games to avoid the program’s first losing season since 1985.

“If we made the plays defensively, we probably would have come out of here with a different result,” Smith said. “Unfortunately, that has been our song all season. We just have not had solid middle infield play, but I am not going to fault the effort by the guys tonight. I thought they kept battling.”

Snow started the Wildcats half of the seventh with a throwing error which allowed Arizona shortstop Louis Boyd to reach base.

 After Arizona loaded the bases with nobody out in the sixth against Sun Devil starter Eder Erives, Smith went to southpaw reliever Connor Higgins to face the Wildcats best batter, left-handed first baseman JJ Matijevic.

Higgins struck out Matijevic on three pitches but Arizona scored two runs on a sacrifice bunt out and scored another run on Snow’s second error in the inning. All three run were unearned, and Arizona suddenly had a 6-3 lead.

Erives put together an inspired performance. The right-hander held the Pac-12 conference’s leading offense to three earned runs on six hits with two walks and two strikeouts. Erives threw a season-high 104 pitches (59 strikes). The El Paso, Texas native threw 101 pitches in eight innings at Oregon April 28 and 101 pitches in four and two-third innings versus Oregon State on March 18.

Smith said Erives did a great job of limiting the damage. In the fourth, he worked out of a bases-loaded jam. 

“I thought he threw really really well,” Smith said. “He doesn’t have the big velocity but he did a great job of keeping them off stride, locating his changeup, throwing his breaking stuff behind in the count. That is a tough loss when you throw the ball well against a good hitting team and come away with a loss.”

 With two-out in ASU’s half of the seventh, senior Zach Cerbo blasted his fourth home run of the season over the center field wall. The long ball cut Arizona’s lead to two runs, 6-4. Snow started ASU’s half of the eighth with a single, but he was stranded.

ASU grabbed a run in the bottom of the ninth on a wild pitch but left fielder Myles Denson popped out to second to end the game.

The game started promising for the Sun Devils. In the top of the first inning, ASU senior right-hander Eder Erives needed only 12 pitches to retire the Wildcats in order and retired the first nine he faced on 35 pitches. The Arizona senior left-hander needed 20 pitches to get through the first and finished the third with 51 (34 strikes).

Two questionable defensive plays allowed the Wildcats offense to break through in the top of the fourth.

Arizona junior and leadoff man Cal Stevenson got to second after ASU left fielder Myles Denson appeared to overrun a flyball and it dropped in. Center fielder Jared Oliva dropped down a sacrifice bunt which moved Stevenson to third with one out.

Junior first baseman JJ Matijevic was hit by a pitch. The next batter, Arizona DH Alfonso Rivas singled which drove Stevenson home to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead. Rivas’ single dropped into left just in front of Denson.

The Wildcats came into Monday’s game 22-3 when leading after four this season but ASU got the equalizer in the bottom half. Sun Devil DH Zach Cerbo worked a one-out walk, second baseman Carter Aldrete singled for the second time in as many at-bats and Cerbo moved to third.

With two on and one out, shortstop Andrew Snow drove in Cerbo with a sacrifice fly to right. The junior shortstop RBI No. 14 on the season and nodded the game at one run a piece after four complete.

The Wildcats grabbed two more runs in the fifth. Shortstop Louis Boyd singled with one out but was forced out at second after Stevenson reached on a fielder’s choice grounder to short.

Oliva singled which set the stage for Matijevic. Erives got ahead of the Wildcat slugger 1-2, but Matijevic hit the next pitch hard off the right field wall and drove in both runs. Matajevic collected his 26th double of 2017 and collected RBI No. 58 and 59.

When Arizona scored, ASU seemed to respond with runs of their own and the trend played out again. ASU scored two and tied the game in the bottom of the fifth. Gage Canning hit a 0-1 pitch to right-center off the videoboard on the video board for his sixth home run of the season and pulled ASU within a run, 3-2. First baseman Taylor Lane walked and right-fielder Hunter Bishop beat out a groundball to the shortstop for an infield hit.

After catcher and cleanup man Lyle Lin struck out, Cerbo came through with a two-out RBI single to left-center and Lane scored. Cerbo’s 18th RBI of the season tied the game, 3-3.

In the bottom of the eighth, two errors by Arizona junior reliever Rio Gomez put runners at first and third with two outs but Lane lined out to center to end the inning. ASU started the ninth with an infield bunt single

A trio of ASU relievers tossed three scoreless innings.

Up Next:

The three-game series resumes with Arizona at 7:00 p.m. Friday. Look for junior left-hander Eli Lingos (6-5, 3.93 ERA) to start for ASU.


Reach the reporter at jpjacqu1@asu.edu or follow @joejacquezaz on Twitter.

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