By Brian Kreps
TEMPE, Ariz – The Arizona State baseball team found itself in a familiar position – with the score tied heading into its final at bat. And as it has done in each of its past two games, the Sun Devils came up with the walk-off victory.
This time it was sophomore Ryan Lillard’s turn to play hero, driving in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth to boost Arizona State to a 3-2 win over U.C. Davis at Phoenix Municipal Stadium in front of 2,320 fans in attendance.
In the bottom of the ninth, sophomore Andrew Snow starting things off with a single, advancing on a sacrifice bunt by sophomore Coltin Gerhart. Next, senior Jordan Aboites drew a walk, putting runners at first and second, and setting the stage for Lillard. With the count 3-1, he would deliver with a single to drive in Snow with the game-winning run, the Sun Devils’ eighth win in a row.
“I told myself to get a good pitch to hit. Make it perfect almost,” Lillard said. “With (the count) 3-1, I knew he didn’t want to walk me so I was sitting on fastball, and got a pretty good swing on it.”
Lillard is in a battle for the starting left field spot, so performances like this can only help his cause.
“I’m just trying to take advantage of every opportunity I get,” Lillard said. “Pinch run, pinch hit, start in left, I’m just gonna take advantage of every opportunity I get.”
Arizona State head coach Tracy Smith hopes that this might be the start of something big for Lillard.
“It’s big. Anytime you can get that game winner and feel like you helped your team win, and really impacted the win for your team, hopefully that gets him upstarted,” Smith said. “This weekend showed we have something going on in left field. So were still waiting for one of those guys to claim it. Hopefully he can do that. I’m happy for him, because he works hard, and he finally delivered. So, good for him.”
The Sun Devils (13-3) also got strong offensive contributions from juniors David Greer and Colby Woodmansee with two hits apiece.
“Just trying to get my front foot down early and see the ball as far as I can and that works for me,” said Woodmansee on his approach.
Freshman Reagan Todd again delivered a quality start by going six innings, allowing one run and scattering just four hits with two walks and three strikeouts.
“He was locating away, and again they weren’t making a lot of adjustments. I thought he did a good job of keeping the ball away and let them get themselves out,” Smith said. “We need someone to step up, and he’s clearly done it again. So he’s putting himself in an opportunity to get more chances on the weekend for us.”
This was the Sun Devils’ third-straight walk-off win and fourth extra-inning win. Smith said that the way his team has performed in these types of games only bodes well for the rest of the season.
“What I like most about it is that we used a lot of our roster. You want the end result clearly with the walk-off win and that usually solicits a little enthusiasm in there,” Smith said. “The best part is when you look at the box score and I said it last night, there are a lot of names on that and I think that’s gonna help us down the stretch. These tight ball games, winning these tight ball games, you got to learn how to win. I think these guys are doing a really good job of that right now.”
Arizona State played text-book situational baseball and executed perfectly in the ninth inning.
“You work on situational hitting all the time. That’s exactly what you’re supposed to do,” Smith said. “Andy got the hit, Colton got the bunt. Jordan worked a fantastic at bat with a walk, then the big hit from Ryan Lillard. If we were to draw it up, that’s what it would look like.”
U.C. Davis (5-9) scored first, grabbing a 1-0 lead in the fourth. The Aggies increased the lead to 2-0 in the top of the eight. But the lead could have been more, if not for a reversal of the home run for U.C.Davis. After initially ruling a home run on a ball hit by pinch hitter Cameron Olson, the umpires discussed the play and overturned the original call, ruling the ball foul.
“That’s what you’re supposed to do in that situation, and they did a good job of that,” Smith said of the play.
Arizona State hosts Meiji University (Tokyo) on Tuesday before opening Pac-12 play on the road against #4 Oregon State in a three-game weekend series. ASU Baseball returns to NBC Sports Radio AM 1060 on March 22nd vs San Diego.