Devils drop series opener to Oregon, lose fifth straight overall

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Coming off a winless weekend series last week at Oklahoma State, the Arizona State looked to bounce back against the No. 12 Oregon Ducks. Instead, the Sun Devils dropped their fifth straight game by a score of 5-4. 

Both teams struck twice in their respective second innings. In the top half of the frame, Oregon (36-14, 13-9) designated hitter Josh Graham singled home third baseman Mitchell Tolman from second. After first baseman A.J. Balta reached on a fielder’s choice, center fielder Austin Grebeck drove Graham home thanks to an error by Sun Devils shortstop Drew Stankiewicz. The error was Stankiewicz’ team-leading 13th on the season.

Arizona State (24-21, 12-10) loaded the bases to start the bottom of the second, and catcher Brian Serven drove home two runs on a single to left field. Ducks starter Tommy Thorpe (8-4, 2.47 ERA) then settled down, getting second baseman Tucker Esmay, center fielder Johnny Sewald and third baseman David Greer out in succession to end the threat. 

Sun Devils starting lefty Brett Lilek (4-4, 2.41) started off hot, retiring the Ducks’ batters in order in the first and third innings, but things started getting away from him in the top of the fifth inning. Lilek walked Oregon shortstop Mark Karaviotis and hit right fielder Tyler Baumgartner with a pitch to bring Tolman to the plate with two outs. Tolman hit Lilek’s 1-1 pitch to deep left, where Jake Peevyhouse misplayed the ball as he ran back and to his left. Tolman slid in safely to third with a two-RBI triple, and proceeded to take home after Stankiewicz’ relay careened off of Tolman and into the Devils’ dugout, making the score 5-2 Ducks. 

A bright spot on the night for the Sun Devils was chasing Thorpe out of the game after just five innings. Thorpe, who averaged almost 6.2 innings per start going into Friday, threw 103 pitches, 69 for strikes, and surrendered four hits, two runs (both earned) and two walks while fanning five.

With two runners in scoring position in the sixth inning, the Sun Devils got one run back on a Tucker Esmay groundout to second. The second runner, Stankiewicz, was stranded after Greer struck out, making him one of the ten Devils left on base in the game. 

Lilek finished the night with seven innings pitched, four hits, five runs (three earned), one walk and a career-high nine strikeouts on 92 pitches. Right-handed reliever Jordan Aboites was solid for the Sun Devils after inheriting fellow righty Hever Bueno’s eighth-inning mess, and kept ASU in the game with a stat line of one hit, no runs, no walks and three strikeouts in two innings of work. This is the first time Lilek has lost two consecutive starts since March 28.

Arizona State began to mount a comeback in the bottom of the eighth after consecutive one-out singles by Stankiewicz and Serven. Ducks reliever Garrett Cleavinger got Tucker Esmay to fly out to right, moving Stankiewicz to third. Then, on a 3-2 pitch, Sewald hit a grounder to Tolman at third, whose fielding miscue allowed Stankiewicz to score and bring the score to 5-4 Ducks. Pinch-hitter Dalton DiNatale grounded out to short to end the inning.

After a scoreless turn at bat, Ducks closer Jake Reed entered in the bottom of the ninth to face designated hitter RJ Ybarra, first baseman Nate Causey and Peevyhouse. The hard-throwing righty sat the Devils down in order with a strike out, a ground out to second and a fly out to right to end the game.

Arizona State’s power bats did not come through Friday, as head coach Tim Esmay noted after the game that first five batters (Sewald, Greer, Ybarra, Causey and Peevyhouse) combined to go 2-for-19 at the plate. But when asked about the ten runners left on base, a visibly disgruntled Esmay answered, “That’s just an easy thing to talk about. I’m not concerned about that.” Friday’s game marked the eighth time in the last 11 games that Arizona State has left eight runners on base.

In addition, the Sun Devils have been trying desperately to power through a very difficult latter part of their schedule that includes final exam week. “A lot of these guys have a lot of weight on their shoulders right now. They’re trying to get it done and play well and sometimes, when that happens, you’re not going up [to bat] with some freedom,” noted Esmay. “You’re actually trying too much, and I saw that tonight.”  

The Devils and Ducks go back at it tomorrow night at Packard Stadium. First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. PST.