After its most crucial series of the season thus far, Arizona State finds itself heading back to the drawing board as it tries to save its season before it becomes too late.
The problems plaguing ASU are chronic, and after a weekend sweep at Cal, those problems have now forced the youthful Sun Devils (12-18, 2-10) to fall to last place in the Pac-12 standings.
ASU has now lost its first four conference series of the season for the first time in the 21st century.
Friday: California 9, Arizona State 6
Despite the relatively close final score, the Sun Devils weren’t competitive until the ninth inning.
The early pitching problems that have been a lingering problem this season returned, as the starting pitcher, junior Eli Lingos, allowed two runs in the first inning before being removed. Lingos had been dealing with the flu earlier in the week, and may have been removed because of the sickness.
The pitching situation didn’t clear up much for ASU after the ace’s premature departure. The bright spot for the Sun Devils was that senior Eder Erives was able to eat up important innings, but Erives wound up surrendering as many earned runs (five) as he had innings pitched. Erives’ command issue reared its ugly head, as he handed out four free passes.
Much of Cal’s offensive production came from sophomore Jeffrey Mitchell Jr. and freshman Andrew Vaughn in the two and three spots in the batting order. Vaughn, the Pac-12 leader in home runs, added his eighth of the season on Friday.
After the Golden Bears extended the lead with two runs in the eighth inning, the Sun Devils mounted a comeback, as five runs crossed the plate. However, two consecutive outs with a runner in scoring position ended ASU’s threat.
The first two runs of the ninth inning were scored on a passed ball and wild pitch respectively. Freshman Carter Aldrete followed with an RBI double and fellow freshman Sam Ferri plated two more with a double of his own.
Saturday: California 6, Arizona State 4
The bad outweighed the good for ASU on Saturday as another deceptively close score gave the Golden Bears the series win.
ASU did not begin to battle back from a six-run deficit until the sixth inning, when junior Andrew Shaps and sophomore Tyler Williams delivered back-to-back home runs. Both Shaps and Williams now have four home runs and are tied for the team lead. The Sun Devils added another run in the inning and then one more in the seventh, but it wasn’t enough to make up the gap they faced.
One plus for the offense was the number of extra base hits it piled up. The Sun Devils had seven in total, as two of the team’s hits on the day went for singles.
The Sun Devils have found themselves playing from behind seemingly all season long, and freshman Chaz Montoya, who has been one of the pitching staff’s most consistent arms, struggled from the get-go. On Saturday, the Golden Bears tagged him for four runs in the third inning as part of their six-run head start.
Montoya ultimately made it through five innings, but he raised his ERA to 5.72. Vaughn and sophomore Tanner Dodson led the charge on offense for Cal, as the duo had five of the 11 hits and scored four of the six runs on the day.
Despite their struggles in conference play, the Sun Devils had won two consecutive Saturday games prior to this weekend.
Sunday: California 10, Arizona State 2
Sunday marked the third straight game and the seventh time in the last eight contests that the opponent scored first on the Sun Devils.
Though ASU attempted to rally from behind on Friday and Saturday, this time the Bears didn’t concede much of their early advantage.
By the seventh inning, Cal held a 10-1 edge and didn’t look back. Junior Jake Godfrey, who earned his second start in the last six days, seemed to have been pitching because he was the best remaining option, rather than because of his recent production.
The former LSU Tiger has appeared to be much more comfortable out of the bullpen, but earned the start for ASU against Cal.
Godfrey has allowed eight earned runs over just 5 and 2/3 innings in his last two starts, and he only lasted 1 and 2/3 frames on Sunday.
The majority of the Golden Bears’ runs came off of sophomore reliever Connor Higgins, who has already experienced a plethora of ups and downs coming out of the bullpen this season. Freshman Cameron Eden ended Higgins’ day with a home run, the last of the five runs he let up, before junior Denis Karas put the exclamation point on the victory with a home run in the sixth inning.
ASU did not have any answers against Cal’s starting pitcher, junior Matt Ladrech. He pitched 6 and 2/3 and allowed just one run, which came on sophomore Gage Canning’s first home run of the season.
Shaps drove in the other run with an eighth inning double.
What’s next? On Tuesday, the Sun Devils will play at UNLV in a mid-week game for the second time before resuming Pac-12 play over the weekend against Washington State, who they share the cellar with in the conference standings.