Smith on pinch-hitting decision in ninth inning and more from 7-5 loss to No. 14 Stanford

Andrew Shaps was dismissed from the Arizona State baseball team Saturday while Ryan Lillard and Jackson Willeford are leaving the program on their own.

Shaps and Lillard are junior outfielders. Willeford is a senior infielder.

Five players have departed the program this week. Sophomore pitchers Zach Dixon and Chris Isbell left after being told they would not be on the travel squad for the final month of the season and likely would have a limited role next season. Dixon pitched in five games this season with three starts and Isbell had four relief appearances.

Shaps was ASU’s starting center fielder in 2016 and 2017, hitting .299 this season with five home runs and 17 RBIs. He played, had three hits and homered Friday in a 7-5 loss to No. 14 Stanford. Shaps sat out the first five games for a team rules violation.

Lillard started in 21 of his 37 games this season, hitting .202. He also played Friday as a pinch hitter in the ninth inning.

Willeford, a transfer in his first season at ASU, played in 19 games with 14 starts, hitting .186. He has been out due to a hamstring injury.

The ASU athletic department issued a statement before Saturday’s game: “Sun Devil athletics thanks Andrew Shaps and Ryan Lillard for their contributions to Sun Devil baseball. The program is moving forward and investing focus and energy on the current team.”

Shaps tweeted later Saturday that he was told he was being dismissed for “failing to buy into team culture.” 

ASU Vice President for Athletics Ray Anderson attended Saturday’s game. He said of the player departures, “You try to assess everything fairly and intelligently, and sometimes you must accept change. We are pivoting to focus on our current team and will do a complete evaluation at the end of the season.”

Anderson said he “unequivocally” supports third-year coach Tracy Smith.

“Our head coach is doing everything the right way and has this program on the correct trajectory,” Anderson said. “We expected rough spots, and those are occurring. We are going to continue to navigate our way through to a very bright future with Tracy as our head coach.”

After an 11-8 loss Saturday, Smith said, “This time of the year after finals week you cut the roster down on guys that aren’t traveling and also you tell guys where they stand and where you see them in the future. Clearly there was one situation (Shaps). I don’t mean this in a terribly negative way, but I’m tired on dealing with it. Our focus has to be moving forward. We made a decision and we stand by it and we’re moving forward. We don’t wish any ill will on any of the kids. Tough day, but I’m very comfortable with where we’re going.”

Eight of ASU’s remaining 12 games are on the road before the season ends May 28.

“You’re going to take 27 on your roster when you travel so guys are staying back here,” Smith said. “You’re paying for these guys to just sit around so when we pare it down, you have those conversations (about the future). I typically wait until after finals week to have those, but if a kid wants to know where he stands I feel it’s my responsibility as a head coach to give you honest assessment. I’m a parent of Division I athletes. That’s all I would want is tell me where my kid stands because then you can make decisions based on that decision. There’s never a good time for that because you’re talking about an end to a career in some cases.”

Dan Dixon, whose son Zach is one of the departed players, said that “there is lots of turmoil and conflict” on the team.

“It wasn’t like this at all last year,” Dan Dixon said. “They’re letting these guys go left and right and destroying whole premise of the team.”

“If you’re not going to play, you don’t want to be there,” Dan Dixon said of his son’s option.

Rattled to some degree early by the departures, ASU fell behind 11-0 in the first 3 1/2 innings Saturday before drawing within 12-8 going into the ninth. The wind was blowing out at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, and each team hit two home runs. 

ASU is 19-24, 6-14 Pac-12, and at risk of its first losing season since 1985. The Sun Devils’ nation-leading, 54-year streak of consecutive 30-win seasons will end unless they finish 11-1.

Smith is 90-70 at ASU, where his first two teams played in a NCAA regional. He was at Indiana from 2006-14 and Miami (Ohio) from 1997-2005. He led Indiana to the College World Series in 2013 when he was national Coach of the Year.

Smith has four years remaining on his ASU contract after this season, receiving one-year extensions after each of his first two seasons.

ASU softball 10, California 0 (five innings)

Ulufa Leilua had five RBIs to lead ASU softball (30-16) to a 10-0 win in five innings over California on Saturday at Tempe.

Stanford baseball 7, ASU 5

Matt Winaker broke open a close game with a three-run home run off the Phoenix Municipal Stadium scoreboard Friday night in No. 14 Stanford’s 7-5 win over Arizona State.

The Cardinal (29-12, 12-7 Pac-12) extended their nation-leading win streak to 10 games. ASU fell to 19-23, 6-13. Game 2 of the series is at 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

Ryan Hingst, ASU’s third pitcher, retired the first two men in the fifth then gave up singles to Brandon Wulff and Maverick Handley before Winaker’s fifth homer on the first pitch.

ASU cut into a 3-0 deficit with runs in the third on a Taylor Lane sacrifice fly and on Gage Canning’s solo homer (his fourth) to right in the fourth.

The Sun Devils added a run in the sixth on a Tyler Williams RBI single. Stanford answered in the seventh with a solo homer by designated hitter Daniel Bakst.

Zach Cerbo singled in a run for ASU in the seventh. Andrew Shaps’ solo homer to center in the eighth was his fifth.

In the ASU ninth, Hunter Bishop and Lane reached on singles but pinch hitter Ryan Lillard failed to get a bunt down and struck out. Cerbo then hit into a game-ending double play. 

“To the credit of the guys, they didn’t quit,” ASU coach Tracy Smith said of trailing all game. “You’re in the ninth inning with the go-ahead run at the plate and three cracks at it. It just didn’t happen, but I can’t fault from an offensive standpoint their effort tonight. The effort and focus was there against a very good pitching staff.”

Stanford built its early lead with single runs in each of the first three innings but left the bases loaded in the first and second.

ASU starter pitcher Eder Erives was hit hard and only worked into the second. He was replaced by Jake Godfrey, then Hingst in the third. Hinst pitched a season-high six innings (98 pitches), giving up seven hits and four earned runs. 

“The fact he (Hingst) was able to come in there and stabilize things with six innings was a definite plus,” Smith said. “The one bad inning, that’s going to happen. But for the most part, I thought he did a pretty decent job.”

Tyler Thorne (4-1) was the winning pitcher with Colton Hock earning his 13th save. Erives (0-3) took the loss.

Sophomore pitchers Zach Dixon and Chris Isbell have left ASU’s team after being told they would not be on the travel squad for the final month of the season.

ASU softball 9, California 7

ASU softball (29-16) hit three home runs in a 9-7 win over California on Friday in Tempe. Sashel Palacios led the way with three RBIs on three hits, and Dale Ryndak picked up the save as the Sun Devils held off a seventh-inning rally, limiting California to three runs. 


Stanford at Arizona State

When: 6:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

Radio: KDUS-AM (1060).

ASU: The Sun Devils (19-22, 6-12) went 1-2 last week at Oregon. They have not had a losing season since 1985 (31-35), not including 2007 when they vacated 44 wins due to NCAA sanctions. ASU has 14 games remaining. OF Gage Canning continues to be one of the national leaders in triples with seven and is hitting .348. Eli Lingos (6-3, 3.33 ERA) is tied for the Pac-12 lead in pitching starts (12). OF Andrew Shaps has reached base in 17 consecutive games, the junior’s career high.

Stanford: No. 14 Stanford (28-12, 11-7) is on a nine-game winning streak, longest in the nation, that includes Pac-12 series sweeps over Oregon and No. 19 Arizona. The Cardinal have won their last four games by one or two runs. 1B Matt Winaker is Pac-12 Player of the Week, hitting .400 last week. Stanford’s earned run average is 3.20, second best in the Pac-12. Chris Castellanos is 7-1 with a 2.62 ERA. Coach Mark Marquess is in his 41st and final season before retirement with his team having clinched his 39th winning season. 

MORE: Pac-12 baseball standings

ASU softball

ASU (28-16 overall, 7-11) vs. Cal (27-19, 3-14)

Friday, ASU vs. Cal, 5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks

Saturday, ASU vs. Cal, 5 p.m., Pac-12 Networks

Sunday, ASU vs. Cal, 3 p.m., Pac-12 Networks

MORE: Pac-12 softball standings

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