The regional tournaments have turned out to be the burial grounds for this season’s aspirations for the Arizona State baseball and softball programs.
After the ASU softball team was knocked off the road to the Women’s College World Series by the Michigan Wolverines, falling in a best-of-three series in the Tempe Regional a couple of weeks ago, the Sun Devil baseball team has joined the women on the sidelines after being eliminated by Sacramento State on Saturday in the San Luis Obispo Regional.
The softball team won 46 games this season, had two of the best pitchers in the country on its staff, and was the No. 4-ranked team in the country going into the playoffs. And they had Michigan on the ropes after winning the first game in the regional tournament – but then gave up two in a row and were unable to move past the regionals for the first time in nine years.
The baseball team won 33 games, including nine of their final 10 of the regular season, and led the Pac-12 in both team batting average and slugging percentage. Their 19 conference wins were the most in the last four years and their eight series wins in Pac-12 play are the second-most in program history.
But they couldn’t win a couple of games that were decided by just one run to keep their season alive.
No. 3-seeded Pepperdine (40-16) handed the No. 2 Sun Devils their first regional loss in the opening game, played at Cal Poly’s Baggett Stadium, by jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the second inning. Trever Allen parked a solo shot over the left-field fence in the bottom of the second, and Nate Causey hit an RBI single with two outs in the fourth to give the Devils their only two runs.
They left the go-ahead run on base in the eighth and stranded the tying run in the ninth to leave the Waves with a 3-2 victory.
But it was No. 4 seed Sacramento State (40-23) that brought the ASU season to a sudden close with a 5-4 decision the next afternoon after the Sun Devils had once again dug a hole for themselves that was too deep to escape.
This time, it was a late-game problem that left them little time to recover. The Hornets scored three runs in the eighth, helped by a fielding error by ASU, to take a 5-2 lead and then hold off the Devils, despite an offensive surge that left them one run shy of going into extra innings.
David Greer opened the ninth inning with a double and then the freshman cruised into home when sophomore RJ Ybarra cleared the fence in left-center, pulling ASU to within one. Two more singles put runners on first and third, but a running error and a called third strike on Allen, the hero from the day before, closed out the threat and sent the Devils home for the the third straight year without an appearance in the super regional.
Allen was a good bet to have at the plate when a base hit was needed; he finished out the season with a 15-game hitting streak. And Jake Peevyhouse, who contributed two hits in the final game, closed out the season by reaching base in 23 consecutive games.
Drew Stankiewicz and Peevyhouse contributed the two hits in the ninth inning against Sacramento State to keep ASU’s hopes alive, and both finish the season with team-high batting averages. Stankiewicz, a graduate of Gilbert High School, closed out at .331 and Peevyhouse, from Pinnacle High in Phoenix, ended the year with a final .323 average. Both are juniors.
Now that another trip to Omaha for the College World Series is off the table, the focus for head coach Tim Esmay changes to a new season, when the Sun Devils begin their quest to extend their streak of 30-win seasons to 53 straight years.
And make another try at getting back to Omaha for the first time since 2010.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)