Starting pitcher Brett Butts was solid through four innings, but couldn't get out of the fifth as he gave up four runs on four hits and struck out two to take the loss. Arizona State reliever Darryl Arreola earned the victory by pitching two and one/third innings of scoreless baseball while striking out four.
"He did a good job, but he's got to find a way, at 75 pitches he just keeps running out of gas," Auburn Coach Tommy Slater said. "We've got to find a way to get him conditioned and past that point. His stuff is good enough, three-pitch mix, but we need to be able to get him to 95 pitches to give us five or six solid innings. Every time he's gotten to 75 we've hit a wall. We've got to find a way, whether it's more conditioning or more throwing between starts, because we can't be taking him out of the game in the fifth at only 83 pitches."
In the first the Tigers were the team on this day that got off to a good start. Leading off second baseman Tyler Johnstone singled up the middle and following a Russell Dixon pop up he moved to second on a single by Josh Donaldson. Following a lengthy delay to repair several wet spots on the infield, first baseman Andy Bennett hit a high chopper on the infield and beat the throw to first for a single to load the bases with just one out.
With Jeff Boutwell at the plate Auburn was looking for something to happen and it came in the form of a wild pitch. Jumping off third as soon as the pitch went into the dirt, Johnstone raced for home with the ball bouncing out in front of home plate. Racing to the ball, the catchers throw to Bowman at the plate was wild allowing Johnstone to score. On the play Donaldson never stopped running and beat the second throw to the plate to score as well. Just like that Auburn led 2-0. The Tigers failed to score Bennett from third, but after one-half inning they gave Butts an early lead.
Johnstone slides into home ahead of the throw to score Auburn's first run on Saturday.
With reliever Josh Satow already on the mound for Arizona State the Tigers had another chance to increase the lead in the fourth. Boutwell and Bianucci singled to lead off the inning, but Jonathan Rasberry's bunt went back to the pitcher, who threw to third to get the lead runner. Auburn would fail to score and Slater said that execution hurt them in the early innings when they could have built a sizeable lead.
"We came out early aggressive and ready to go and then we can't get a bunt down," Slater said. "That really hurt us. We need to be able to get a bunt down, just little things. We preach to our guys about doing little things well and little things become big things. We didn't do the little things well today."
Butts cruised through the first three innings but the attacking Arizona State offense finally got to him in the bottom of the fourth. After the Tigers missed several chances to add to their lead the Sun Devils didn't miss when they had the opportunity. Leading off, third baseman Willy Fox singled to left field after what looked to be strike three earlier in the at-bat was called a ball. Standout freshman Ike Davis followed with a walk to put the Sun Devils in business.
First baseman Brett Wallace followed Davis and singled to right field to easily score Fox and cut the lead to just one. The runners moved up on a wild pitch to get into scoring position and that proved to be important as catcher Preston Paramore lifted a fly ball into deep center field to score Davis and tie the game. Butts settled in and got the next two hitters to end the inning with the score tied at two.
For Butts and the Tigers things went sour in the next inning as Arizona State broke the game open with a four-run outburst. Leading off J.J. Sferra singled to right field and Ryan Sontag followed with a bunt in front of the plate that catcher Jonathan Rasberry fielded and threw into right field. The error put runners on second and third with nobody out and the Sun Devils took full advantage of the opportunity.
Up next, Colin Curtis lifted a fly ball to Russell Dixon in right field. The hit easily scored Sferra from third and, attempting to throw out Sontag at third, shortstop Phillip Stringer threw the ball away at third allowing Sontag to score and make it 4-2. That would be it for Butts and Johnny Thompson came on in relief, but he would fare no better. After getting out number two he gave up a double to Davis. An error by Bennett at first allowed Wallace to get all the way to third and score Davis. The final run of the inning came on a single by Paramore. Now ahead 6-2 Arizona State left things in the hands of reliever Darryl Arreola.
Perfect on the season coming into the game with a 0.00 ERA in four appearances, Arreola came on in the fifth inning with the game tied and stymied the Tigers for two innings. Facing just six batters he struck out four and had Auburn on the ropes until his defense fell apart on him in the top of the sixth. With one out Stringer, in because everyday shortstop Justin Bristow took a ball off an already sore finger, reached on an error to give the Tigers a little life.
Slater meets with the Auburn offense during a break in the action on Saturday.
Another error with Bruce Edwards at the plate put Auburn in good shape with runners on first and third. Stringer reached third after advancing to second on a balk. With Johnstone at the plate Arreola had his second balk of the inning that scored Stringer and moved Edwards to second. Johnstone continued the trend with a ground ball that was again booted by ASU. The third error of the inning didn't hurt the Sun Devils though as Brett Bordes came on to get pinch hitter Ryan Stanley and Donaldson to end the threat with the Tigers still down by three.
That proved to be the deathblow for the Tigers as the Sun Devils again used the big inning to break the game open on the way to the victory. With reliever Peter Wiggins on his last leg, Arizona State sent 10 batters to the plate and scored six runs to put game two away and give the Sun Devils the series win. With one out in the inning Paramore singled on the infield. Playing first for the Tigers, Derek Sain threw the ball away when throwing back to Wiggins on the mound. The error allowed Paramore to reach second and seemed to take the life out of the Tigers.
Six consecutive Arizona State hits later and this game was all but in the books as Arizona State took a commanding 12-3 lead. The Tigers failed to score in the ninth and have now lost their third series of the year and second in a row. At the plate Auburn had seven hits with seven different players collecting them. No Tiger hitter had a run batted in.
Game three of the series will begin at 12:45 central time on Sunday as freshman Evan Crawford squares off against Davis for Arizona State.