SCOTTSDALE – For some, Tuesday’s display on the diamond was nostalgic of the last time Arizona State baseball played in Tucson. For others, it was a stomach-churning reality that the roller-coaster season had reached its lowest point yet.
Fans in maroon and gold came in bunches and rallied together above home plate with collective eagerness and cheers. No team had a greater hometown advantage than the Sun Devils, whose home stadium was located just 4.6 miles away at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
The disappointment was deafening as hometown ASU fell 12-3 to the University of Arizona in the first game of pool play in the Pac-12 Baseball Tournament at Scottsdale Stadium.
The hefty defeat against a rival – in indisputably the biggest game of the 2023 season – brought back deja vu of despair and disappointment while delivering a major blow toward earning a berth at the NCAA baseball tournament.
“You can’t come out and spot a team nine runs before you wake up and decide to start playing baseball,” ASU baseball coach Willie Bloomquist said after the loss. “At the end of the day that falls upon my shoulders, I’ve got to do a better job of getting them ready to play.”
The Sun Devils, used to coming from behind, trailed in 17 of their past 22 wins and have won four games this season when trailing by at least five runs.
But coming back from a nine-run deficit after four innings would have been historic. And Sun Devil history wasn’t made Tuesday.
Eight of ASU’s season-high 10 walks were issued in the first four innings and marked its most allowed in a game since last May against Oregon. The pitching staff that had surrendered just 13 earned runs in the last five games allowed 12 to open postseason play.
Junior pitcher Josh Hansell, who made just his fourth start this season, lasted only 2 1/3 innings. The right-hander allowed five runs on 61 pitches and threw only 33 strikes.
Ten pitches into the game, those cheers from the ASU faithful disintegrated into silence. A first-inning home run from UArizona senior shortstop Nik McClaughry marked the first of four runs and four hits in the inning.
The Wildcats got on base with two walks before a triple from junior right-fielder Emilio Corona scored both. A two-strike sacrifice fly from freshman second baseman Mason White gave them the last run of the inning.
It took the Sun Devils until the third inning to register a hit, a single just out of the reach of senior third baseman Tony Bullard. But all hope quickly faded following a double play just three pitches later.
Matt Tieding walked three of the first four batters to begin the fourth inning before being replaced by two-way player Will Rogers. Shortly thereafter, an avalanche of runs ensued. McClaughry drove in another run on a bases-loaded walk, and Connor Davis cleared the bases on the following pitch with a double, extending the Wildcat lead to 9-0.
The Sun Devils ended a 29-0 scoreless stretch over the last 14 innings against the Wildcats with an RBI single from sophomore first baseman Jacob Tobias in the sixth inning.
But more Wildcat runs came for every sense of slight hope for the Sun Devils. UArizona answered with three runs in the seventh to answer ASU’s first run of the game in the previous inning and end any hopes of a comeback.
“I think it came down to us not executing our game plan,” junior second baseman Luke Keaschall said. “We’d get behind hitters and give them leverage counts and then offensively we weren’t really getting on them and getting on base or putting them in pressure situations. So at the end of the day I think we just didn’t execute our plan as much as we should have.”
ASU baseball was only out-hit 11 to 9 despite the nine-run loss. Five of them came in the final three innings. The late-game effort was not good enough for Bloomquist, who sternly emphasized the team needs to play nine innings of complete baseball.
“They were on the verge of getting 10 runs before we decided to put together good at-bats,” he said. “You can’t do that. You can’t spot six or seven innings before you wake up. It’s got to be a mentality. The way when you come to play from the first inning to the last. And right now we’re not doing that.”
The Sun Devils’ first four batters in the lineup – Wyatt Crenshaw, Nick McLain, Ryan Campos, and Keaschall – combined to go 1-for-15 (.066) against the Wildcats. Those four combined to hit .328 this season.
ASU baseball has a day of rest before it takes on No. 2 seed Oregon State on the final day of pool play Thursday at 10 a.m. MST.
“We’re going to bounce back and be ready to go,” Keaschall said. “Like I said earlier this week, I like our odds. That’s what is special about pool play. We beat them two-out-of-three (games this season), so if we come out and play our game, we’re gonna win that game.”