Series sweep eludes Sun Devils with close loss to Trojans

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By Brad Denny By Brad Denny

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Thirteen hours after their last game ended, No. 25 Arizona State and USC met at Packard on Sunday for the final tilt of the three-game series.  The Trojans defeated the Sun Devils by a score of 8-7, preventing a series sweep and putting an end to ASU’s four-game win streak.

The scoring picked up right where it left off after Saturday night’s eleventh inning.  In the top of the first, Jeremy Martinez and the Trojans (15-15, 4-8 Pac-12) used a hit-and-run to plate Kevin Swick on a single to right, and Dante Flores followed with an RBI single to left.
Arizona State (17-12, 7-5) overcame the early 2-0 deficit in the bottom of the first.  A walk and three wild pitches allowed Johnny Sewald to score, and two more walks and a single loaded the bases for Chris Beall.  The sophomore slapped a single to center, scoring Trever Allen and tying the game at two.  
Dalton DiNatale added a single of his own through the right side of the USC infield, giving the Sun Devils a 3-2 lead.  Trojans starting right-hander Nigel Nootbaar (0-1, 3.21 ERA; no decision) got just one out, surrendering no hits, three runs (all earned), three walks and three wild pitches. 
The Sun Devils could not maintain the lead for long, as USC struck again in the second inning.  A leadoff walk to Blake Lacey set up Omar Cotto Lozada’s one-out RBI triple to deep right-center field.  Cotto Lozada came around to score on a Swick double, and the Trojans took a 4-3 lead.  
Two more USC runs in the third inning forced Sun Devils starter Darin Gillies (1-2, 5.30) to exit the game after 76 pitches, leaving with nine hits, six runs (four earned), three walks, four strikeouts and a loss on his stat line.
The Trojans scored twice in the fifth inning as well against right-handed reliever/midweek starter Seth Martinez.  Jeremy Martinez notched a gap double to left-center for his second run batted in on the day, and scored on Flores’ second RBI single, making the score 8-3 Trojans.
Arizona State’s bats were dormant until the seventh inning, when RJ Ybarra pinch-hit for Beall with the bases loaded and two outs.  Ybarra hammered a deep double to center field, clearing the bases and bringing the Devils within two.
Right-handed reliever Eric Melbostad threw a quick top of the eighth, and in the Sun Devils’ next at-bat, DiNatale took the first pitch he saw over the right field wall to make the score 8-7.  
The Devils came close to tying the game in the bottom of the ninth.  With one out, Ybarra reached first on an error by Lacey, the Trojans’ shortstop.  Tucker Esmay pinch-ran for Ybarra, but Drew Stankiewicz and DiNatale popped out for the final two outs of the game.
After the game, Ybarra praised Melbostad’s 2.2 innings of relief work that culminated in zero Trojan hits or runs and just one walk.  “It was a great performance by [Melbostad], to come out of the bullpen for us when we needed it and just dominate their hitters,” Ybarra said.  “Without him, who knows?  They might have put up three, four, five more.”
Head coach Tim Esmay was disappointed that his team could not complete the sweep despite winning the series.  “When you have an opportunity to sweep, you need to sweep,” Esmay asserted.  “We had a chance to get back a game in the Pac…today and we didn’t get it done.  Now we have to get it back somewhere else.”
The team’s next chance to do so comes against rival Arizona (14-19, 4-7) on Wednesday for their second meeting of the year.  The Sun Devils feasted on the Wildcats two weeks ago for a 14-6 midweek win.  First pitch at Packard Stadium is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. PST.