ASU knocks off UC-Riverside in 11 innings

Surprise, Ariz. - Riccio Torrez thought he had a walk off base hit in the ninth inning. The junior sent a rocket that was destined to go back up the middle and win the game for ASU. Instead it went off of the pitcher's foot and right to the shortstop who easily converted the final out of the inning.

Two innings later, Torrez made sure that a fluky play wouldn't cost him. This time around, he found the outfield grass to plate the winning run, leading ASU to a 5-4 victory over UC Riverside at Surprise Stadium.

"I thought I had a knock up the middle, but it hit off the guy's shoe," Torrez said. "Not too many guys get a second chance to end the game when you've already had it. I was just going up there trying to get a good pitch and find some grass for a base hit."

The Sun Devils (9-2) finished the Coca-Cola Classic at Surprise Stadium with a 3-1 record. After falling to Cal St. Bakersfield (10-2) 2-1 on Thursday, ASU knocked off Northern Illinois (0-10) 10-9 on Friday and defeated Kansas (5-6) 4-3 on Saturday.

ASU played four one run games consecutively for the first time since 2007.

"It was a good test," Torrez said. "We aren't always going to blow everyone out of the water. It was a good test to see how we are going to respond. We were down a few of these games and it was good to have to battle back and do the small things."

Down 4-1 to UC Riverside (8-5) in the sixth inning on Sunday, ASU needed to find some offense that had been missing against Highlanders' ace Trevor Frank.

Torrez doubled home Johnny Ruettiger and then he scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Zach Wilson to cut the deficit to 4-3.

In the seventh inning, Esmay made a coaching decision that ended up paying off greatly.

With catcher Xorge Carrillo at second base and two outs, Esmay lifted him for the faster Michael Benjamin.

Ruettiger followed with a base hit and Benjamin scored just ahead of the tag, meaning Carrillo probably wouldn't have scored to tie the game at 4-4.

The game stayed tied until the 11th, when Austin Barnes led off with a double into the leftfield corner. Andrew Aplin tried to drop down a sacrifice bunt, but was hit by a pitch.

Ruettiger then tried a sacrifice bunt of his own, but it was placed perfectly and he beat it out for a single, loading the bases.

After Zack MacPhee grounded into a fielders' choice for the first out of the inning, Torrez came through with a single back up the middle to win the game.

ASU starter Alex Blackford allowed three runs in five innings of work, but the bullpen picked him up.

The Sun Devils wouldn't have been able to come back without Joseph Lopez's work in relief.

The junior college transfer worked four and a third innings, allowing just one run, keeping the game close.

Junior Mitchell Lambson worked the final inning and two thirds to pick up the victory.

"For us to even [comeback], we needed help tonight," ASU head coach Tim Esmay said. "We needed Joseph Lopez to come in and do that. It was good for him to come in and do that. Things don't bother him, that's a good spot for him."

Esmay couldn't have asked for a more competitive weekend, which in the long run will benefit the Sun Devils more than playing in blowouts.

"From a coaching standpoint, you couldn't ask for a better situation this weekend," Esmay said. "Every pitch mattered. Every at bat mattered. You can't do that in practice, either. It was a good way to understand the level of arousal we have to play at.

We faced everybody'S Friday starter. It wasn't a typical weekend, they were coming."

If anything, ASU learned that they can't take anyone for granted.

"It was eye opening knowing we have a target on our backs," Torrez said. "Everybody is gunning for us. We have to be ready to go from the first inning through the ninth inning. We have to be ready to play no matter what."

Now ASU will head on the road for its toughest test yet as it heads into SEC country to face No. 25 Auburn for three games next weekend.

"We went there a couple of years ago and the atmosphere is awesome," Esmay said of play in an SEC ballpark. "It is awesome in the fact that nobody likes you and nobody wants you to do well. It is another great chance for us to play baseball and see how we handle the atmosphere."

Rodgers on the mend

ASU ace Brady Rodgers didn't pitch for the second consecutive weekend due to tightness in his arm, but Esmay believes his sophomore starter is on the mend.

Rodgers wanted to pitch on Sunday, but ASU decided against it.

"He didn't have an opportunity to throw off the mound last week, he was throwing flat ground," Esmay said. "He threw a preparation for a start bullpen [today] and he felt good. That sounds to me like it is getting better and better."

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