PHOENIX – Across seven innings, nearly everything clicked exactly right for Grand Canyon University’s baseball team. Unfortunately for the Antelopes and luckily for Arizona State, they play nine.
And so ended a remarkable meeting between the Valley rivals Tuesday night, with the Sun Devils scoring nine runs in the eighth inning to seal a 13-10 comeback win and capture their sixth victory in a row.
For a while the fans packed into Brazell Field thought they were witnessing a role reversal from the March 22 game at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, when ASU defeated Grand Canyon 11-1. This time, the 6 p.m. first pitch was complemented by the blazing desert sun, temperatures nearing 100 degrees and a sea of Antelope fans whose shirts matched the purple seats behind them. The 4,311 fans in attendance tallied the fifth-largest crowd in Grand Canyon baseball history.
The game opened with ASU right fielder Nick McLain’s first collegiate at-bat. A hard-hit line drive by McLain forced GCU’s shortstop Emilio Barreras to leap into the air to snatch the ball, but Lopes pitcher Carter Young put the Devils down in order in the first and kept the Devils scoreless through the first four innings.
Grand Canyon’s offense consistently built a lead, wearing down Sun Devil pitching and forcing starter Matt Tieding out of the game after 1 1/3 innings, beginning with three straight singles to score one run in the first. Tieding gave up four total runs on five hits with one walk and no strikeouts in his short appearance.
“For seven innings, that was the best game we’ve played all year. Unfortunately, we play nine,” Lopes coach Gregg Wallis said of his team that led 9-2 through seven innings. “For the first seven, we were clicking on all cylinders. We looked like a regional team. We looked like a team that could make a run.”
ASU’s offense had chances throughout the first four innings, as Luke Keaschall, Isaiah Jackson and Ryan Campos each reached base in the second, third and fourth innings, respectively, but were stranded on the basepaths.
The fifth inning saw the Devils’ first runs of the night, as Wyatt Crenshaw singled and advanced to second on a sacrifice fly, before Jackson doubled, scoring Crenshaw. McLain then recorded his first collegiate hit with a single to center field to score Jackson on a close play at the plate.
“The coaching staff, especially, has known what (McLain) is capable of doing,” ASU coach Willie Bloomquist said. “We’ve just been anxiously waiting for him to get here and play.”
Two Antelope relievers, Grant Richardson in the sixth and Carson Ohl in the seventh, held the Devils scoreless again, while the Lopes added to their final lead of the night with two runs in the bottom of the seventh.
“We swung the bats well. We were really aggressive on the base paths,” Lopes catcher Josh Buckley said. “The defense played pretty good. We did a lot of pretty good things, but it’s just finding a way to do everything at the same time.”
Just as many GCU fans slowly shuffled out of the stadium anticipating a nearly certain victory, ASU’s bats began to heat up. A three-run home run from Luke Hill sparked the rally, followed by an RBI single from McLain, who forced a pitching change. However, the inning’s momentum continued for the Sun Devils. A bases-loaded walk to Keaschall pushed another run across. Batting for the second time in the inning, two more RBI singles from Jacob Tobias and Luke Hill gave Arizona State an 11-9 lead and forced the inning’s second pitching change.
“The coaches told us to stay in our approach and don’t try to do too much,” Hill said. “You’re not going to put up nine runs in one swing.”
Bloomquist went to Blake Pivaroff out of the bullpen in the eighth, and a 1-2-3 inning gave the Devils a chance to build their lead. And that they did. McLain, destined to earn his spot in the lineup, hit a laser over the right field fence with one man on to cushion the lead.
“On the bus (to the game), I was a little nervous. After I threw the guy out, I was all good to go,” McLain said. “I was excited to get back on the field.”
With Owen Stevenson given the challenge of closing the game, Grand Canyon showed a spark of resilience, as a one-out triple by Barreras and a passed ball allowed the Lopes to score one run. Despite two more hits, a fly ball out to Jackson concluded the game.
Despite the massive deficit, Bloomquist’s squad was able to fight back late in clutch situations. Three times since Bloomquist took over as head coach, his team has overcome a seven-run deficit to win. Prior to his tenure, the last time that had been done even once was in 2000. In addition, all nine of Arizona State’s eighth-inning runs came with two strikes, and five of those were with two outs. ASU is now 24-9 overall, 10-2 in conference play.
“A lot of it is a mindset of not giving in and refusing to quit,” Bloomquist said. “That’s an expectation we have as an offense. We did a great job of that late (in the game) tonight.”
Grand Canyon,18-14 overall and 9-6 in conference play, heads to Texas Friday for a three-game stretch against Abilene Christian, while Arizona State’s competition intensifies this weekend as the Sun Devils travel to Seattle and take on the University of Washington, which is the highest-ranked Pac-12 team the Sun Devils have faced so far, ranked sixth with a 6-6 conference record.
“You can’t put a wet blanket on the way they battled back and ultimately won,” Bloomquist said. “There will be a different tone of our meeting tomorrow with all of the miscues we had early.”