Arizona State baseball hit the same bump in the road on their schedule that got in the way of University of Arizona last year.
It was a small college in California with less than 8,000 students and playing their first year of Division I ball that knocked ASU off course.
Cal State Bakersfield upset the No. 11 Sun Devils in the opening game of the Coca Cola Classic over the weekend. That same team jumped up and surprised Arizona last year, taking two of three games in Tucson, when the Cats were ranked No. 22 in the country.
The Roadrunners defeated ASU on a home run by a freshman in the top of the 10th inning Thursday night for a 2-1 win to open the four-day tourney at Surprise Stadium – despite the fact that the Devils outhit them, 10-4.
CSUB, which plays as an independent, just added the baseball program to the school’s sports offerings in 2007, with their first full season in 2009 as an NCAA D-II team. This year they moved up to D-I.
But ASU needn’t feel too badly. The Roadrunners went on to shut out Kansas, 12-0, and Air Force, 5-0, and then wrapped up a 4-0 tourney record by beating Northern Illinois, 6-1.
The only other loss for the Sun Devils this year was Feb. 25 when they dropped the opening game, 7-3, of a four-game series with Delaware.
But the Sun Devils picked themselves up, dusted off, and got back to business for the rest of the Coca Cola, winning three out of four.
But it wasn’t a smooth road through the nine-year-old event, by any means.
They had four consecutive games decided by one-run, the first time that’s happened since March of 2007. In addition to the extra-inning game against CSUB, they went to 11 innings in the finale last night against UC Riverside. That’s two in 11 games this season after they only had three extra-inning games all of last year.
A bases-loaded single by Riccio Torrez in the bottom of the 11th earned the Devils that final win over Riverside, which was on a seven-game winning streak, extending ASU’s season record to 9-2.
Torrez, the junior infielder from Brophy Prep in Phoenix, finished that game 2-for-6 with two RBIs and batted in six runs over the course of the tournament. Another junior, Johnny Ruettiger, contributed four hits to the winning effort, a career high.
Torrez and Mitchell Lambson, the junior lefty who contributed two wins on the mound during the tourney, were named to the all-tournament team.
Lambson came in to relieve the starter, junior Kramer Champlin, in the previous game against Kansas and retired nine out of the 10 hitters he faced, including six straight strikeouts to end the game for a 4-3 victory.
ASU also beat Northern Illinois, 10-9, by coming from behind to stage a game-winning rally in the bottom of the 8th. Junior Zach Wilson contributed big in that contest, tying his career-high five RBIs.
The Sun Devils have had the luxury of playing at home in Packard Stadium for their first seven games of the season, and then moved down the road to Surprise for the Coca Cola tourney.
But this week they will get a chance to justify their national ranking on the road, traveling to Auburn to take on the Tigers in a three-game series that begins Friday night.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)