ASU baseball falls to UNC Wilmington in Vander Kooi's return to the mound

The Sun Devils are now back to .500 after a 3-1 loss to UNCW Sunday at home

Despite freshman pitcher Boyd Vander Kooi's return to the mound, the Sun Devils (8-8) lost a close battle in the series finale to the North Carolina Wilmington Seahawks 3-1 on Sunday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. ASU is now on a two-game losing streak. 

The Maroon and Gold took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning when freshman shortstop Drew Swift singled to left field, scoring freshman infielder Trevor Hauver from second base. 

The lead, though, would be short-lived as in the next inning, UNCW tied the game on a sacrifice fly. 

UNCW broke the tie in the top half of the fifth when freshman Ryan Jeffers smacked a home run over left center field. It was Jeffers’ second home run of the series. 

"I thought our guys hung in there and at least gave ourselves a chance in that tight ball game," ASU head coach Tracy Smith said. "This group is a good baseball team. As we get some more maturity, as we grow up ... I know it's going to win a lot of baseball games."

ASU had an opportunity in the bottom of the seventh to get right back in the game, only down 3-1. After back-to-back base hits to start the inning, the top of the batting order came up with junior outfielder Gage Canning

However, Canning struck out. 

"(I was trying to) put something over the plate, do something (and) give us a chance but it just didn't work out," Canning said. "(UNCW pitcher Austin Warren) was throwing a slider and it was pretty tight and I wasn't picking it up very well. It was just tough for me to see and I just wasn't swinging at very good pitches."

Sophomore infielder Lyle Lin and freshman outfielder Spencer Torkelson, hitting second and third respectively, both flied out to end what looked like a promising bottom seventh frame. 

The Sun Devils never managed to put two runners on base for the remainder of the game. 

"The guys are putting good swings on, we're barrelling the balls, we just didn't find the gaps today," Smith said.

Boyd's Return

Vander Kooi returned to the mound for the first time since Feb. 25. 

"He could have pitched last week, he could have pitched this week," Smith said. "We just wanted to be careful with him and make sure (to) take a little bit of extra time prior to the conference (schedule)."

The right hander went 5.2 innings, giving up eight hits and three runs, although only two runs were earned. Vander Kooi recorded seven strikeouts against UNCW, upping his season total to 21 Ks. 

"He's such a mentally strong kid," Smith said. "It's just their pitching was a little bit better than ours today." 

Offense Disappears

Entering Saturday's contest, the ASU offense was averaging around 13 hits over its previous five contests. In those previous five games, the Sun Devils also scored nine or more runs four times. 

However, the final 18 innings of this series saw the Sun Devil offense combined for 13 hits and just one run. ASU batters also struck out seven times in both Saturday and Sunday's loses to UNCW. 

What's next for ASU

The Sun Devils remain in Phoenix as they get set for a showdown with in-state rival Arizona. The historic rivals will play one game on Tuesday, March 13 before the Pac-12 Conference schedule begins Friday. 

"It's going to be pretty exciting because I actually grew up a U of A fan," Hauver said. "A lot of my family is from Tucson, so it's going to be fun playing against a team I grew up rooting for." 

First pitch versus the Wildcats on Tuesday is scheduled for 7 p.m. MST. 


Reach the reporter at michael.baron@asu.edu or follow @Michael_Baron96 on Twitter.

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