Trailing No. 4 Stanford 5-2 in the bottom of the ninth having already left 11 men on base, Arizona State could have called it a night Thursday.
Instead, the Sun Devils strung together four straight hits to start the inning off Cardinal closer Jack Little then a pair of sacrifice flies from reserves Cole Austin and Myles Denson for a 6-5 walk-off win at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
“We were down the whole game, but it didn’t feel like it,” shortstop Alika Williams said. “It felt like how we were the first half when no matter what the deficit was we were just going to keep fighting to get runners on to keep getting guys to the plate. It felt good, but there was never a doubt really in the dugout.”
Coach Tracy Smith said his players were into the game but in a professional manner throughout, perhaps befitting the fact that former New York Yankees great Derek Jeter was among 2,681 in attendance. Jeter is now CEO and part owner of the Miami Marlins, who could have the No. 1 pick in the 2020 major league draft when the top prospect might be ASU’s Spencer Torkelson.
“He’s any infielder’s idol,” Williams said of Jeter. “To know he’s out there chillin’ is really cool. I think all the infielders in pre-game had a little something extra.”
ASU baseball coach Tracy Smith, players on comeback win over No. 4 Stanford
Jeff Metcalfe, azcentral sports
Jeter and his former Yankees teammate Jorge Posada saw Stanford put up two runs in the first and lead by two most of the way. When the Cardinal added a run in the eighth, ASU seemed headed toward another competitive loss against an elite opponent.
Instead, Hunter Bishop, who could be a top-10 pick in the 2019 MLB draft, doubled down the right-field line leading off the ninth. Williams singled him home, Lyle Lin reached down to punch a single to left and Gage Workman doubled to left, scoring Williams.
Little intentionally walked Carter Aldrete, loading the bases with no outs and pinch runner/pitcher Boyd Vander Kooi on third. Smith gathered the runners together primarily to make sure Vander Kooi didn’t wander too far off third and put himself at risk of being doubled off on a line drive.
“He was excited to run (for Lin),” Smith said. “We just reminded him cut your secondary (lead) down, here’s what you do on this. He was fired up coming in there,” to score on Austin’s sac fly to right. “It’s almost like he got a win on the mound.”
Austin was playing in just his seventh game since returning from back surgery that originally was going to keep him out all season.
Denson then came up as a pinch hitter with runners on second and third and one out, facing his former Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School teammate Little. He went down 0-2 then fouled off three pitches before lofting the winning sac fly to left.
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“It’s tough that it was him, but it felt great for us to win,” Denson said.
“Myles is a major part of this team in a different way than Torkelson is,” Smith said. “Guys pull for a guy that comes to practice every day and pulls for you when he’s not playing. Then when he gets an opportunity to win his team a baseball game against a really good team, it makes it all worth it when you can hear those guys in there for him.”
In retrospect, ASU might have saved the game in the seventh by keeping Stanford off the board after the Cardinal loaded the bases with no outs. Will Matthiessen hit into a shift, leading to a force at home, then freshman pitcher Blake Burzell struck out Andrew Daschbach and got a ground out.
“Hey Skip, thanks for leaving me in,” Burzell told Smith afterwards.
ASU pulled off a similar escape from a bases-loaded, no-out jam last week in a 6-5, 11-inning win at California.
The Sun Devils improve to 37-15, 16-11 Pac-12, remaining tied with California for fourth in the conference. Stanford drops to 39-11, 20-7.
1969 champs remembered
ASU will honor its 1969 national championship team on its 50th anniversary before game 2 at 6 p.m. Friday.
That team, coached by Bobby Winkles, included All-Americas Paul Ray Powell, Larry Gura and Billy Cotton. Powell was national Player of the Year as chosen by the Sporting News. John Dolinsek was Most Outstanding Player at the 1969 College World Series.
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