In an ASU-UA rivalry that’s filled with tradition — not to mention animosity — the two schools added another exciting chapter to the series in the Sun Devils’ 12–8 victory at Packard Stadium on Tuesday night.
“(We) played hard tonight,” coach Tim Esmay said. “We just grinded it out. There was no quit in (us) whatsoever, and we were getting great at bats.”
The contest started on a high note for No. 19 ASU (24-13, 9-6 Pac-12), as junior centerfielder Andrew Aplin led off the game with a home run to right-center field, and sophomore designated hitter James McDonald added a two-out RBI double later in the inning to give the Sun Devils an early 2–0 lead.
Aside from an unearned run in the third, ASU starter Alex Blackford (1-2, 5.84 ERA) cruised through the first four innings at Packard Stadium.
However, things came unraveled for Blackford and the Sun Devils in the fifth, when No. 16 UA (24-12, 10-5 Pac-12) put up six runs on seven hits to take back the momentum and post a 7–2 lead. The dagger in the inning came via a three-run dinger by Wildcat third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean that chased Blackford from the game.
“We’ve talked all year long — and it’s hard not to (do this) — about not playing the scoreboard,” Esmay said. “Play the game, and I thought we did a good job of that tonight.”
ASU got two runs back in the bottom of the inning thanks to a two-out RBI single by McDonald. The Sun Devils continued to chip away at the deficit in the sixth, courtesy of a fielder’s choice that brought home redshirt freshman right fielder Trever Allen and made it a 7–5 UA advantage.
“The biggest response we had was scoring two after we gave up six,” Esmay said. “It just kept us in striking position. We weren’t going to go away, and when you do that, it allows you to understand that we’re still playing.”
In the seventh, the two teams traded runs once again. UA took advantage of a two-out error by sophomore third baseman Michael Benjamin — his second of the game — to extend their lead to 8–5.
But the Sun Devils refused to fade quietly into the night.
“Lately, we’ve been scrapping together some runs,” Aplin said. “Even if we get down, we find a way to come back. Little base hits here and there, scrap a few, and then (it leads to) a big inning.”
In the bottom half of the seventh, ASU got that big inning by posting seven runs on four hits, three walks and a hit-by-pitch to take a 12–8 lead.
“We started rolling, started feeling a little momentum, and the crowd started getting into it,” Aplin said. “Then (UA) kind of collapsed.”
Senior righthander Joseph Lopez (1-0, 1.93 ERA) was credited with the win for the Sun Devils. Unfortunately for ASU, the game was a non-conference affair and thus the win will not move the team up in the conference standings.
“You just always play to the end against (UA),” Aplin said. “You never want to lose.”
ASU returns to Pac-12 action on Friday with a three-game set against No. 8 Stanford at Sunken Diamond stadium in Palo Alto, Calif.
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