The loss ruined a solid night for the Tigers in several areas as starting pitcher Cory Luckie had a solid outing. While his numbers didn't look good in the end with six runs allowed on eight hits in four and one/third innings, Luckie showed some signs of life in his first weekend start since April of 2008. Coach John Pawlowski said Luckie was good, but just ran out of steam and they couldn't find a way to pick up the slack.
"I thought the kids played really hard today," Pawlowski said. "Cory Luckie went out there and did a good job for us. It's one of those things, we've got to find a way to bridge that gap between our starter and the end of the game. I thought that was the difference today."
Reliever Sean Ray got the loss despite a whale of an outing. In two and one/third innings Ray didn't allow a hit, but an unearned run came around to score and that would be the difference in the game.
At the plate Casey McElroy was 3-3 on the night including his first home run of the season. Left fielder Brian Fletcher added a pair of hits including a two-run homer, while Hunter Morris also had a pair of hits.
"We'll have to learn from this," Pawlowski said. "The disappointing thing in this game is that of the last eight outs we made, seven were strikeouts. Against good arms they're just going to have to find a way to make some contact and put the ball in play. Lots of things to work on, but a tough ballgame tonight."
The Sun Devils got things started right away against the Tigers as a double play saved Luckie from allowing runs in the first following two singles, but he wouldn't be as fortunate in the second. Looking good, Luckie got ahead of designated hitter Zach Wilson 0-2 before hitting him to lead off the inning. That proved to be big as Johnny Ruettiger followed with a single to center field. After getting a ground ball for the first out to move the runners into scoring position, Luckie gave up a two-run double to Deven Merrero to give Arizona State the early lead.
Trailing 2-0, Auburn finally got the offense going in the fourth inning. With just one hit through three, the Tigers started out the same way with two quick outs before Fletcher hit what seemed to be a meaningless single into right field to bring McElroy to the plate. Jumping on the first pitch, the sophomore blasted his first home run of the season to right-center to tie the game at two and give Auburn some much needed momentum.
That momentum carried over into the fifth inning as once again the Tigers came up with some two-out magic. It would be some unusually erratic defense from the Sun Devils that got things started though as Justin Bryant and Dan Gamache both reached on errors to start the fifth. Following a sacrifice bunt by Ryan Jenkins, Blair came back to strike out Justin Hargett for out number two.
Auburn would then explode as Creede Simpson doubled off the wall in left field to score two and put the Tigers up 4-2. Morris then singled to center field to easily score Simpson for a 5-2 advantage. That would bring Fletcher to the plate looking for something to drive. He would get it and he didn't miss as his blast to right field put Auburn up 7-2. It was his seventh homer of the season, 34th of his career, and gives him 26 RBI on the season.
The lead would be short-lived for the Tigers as Arizona State put up six in the fifth to take the lead back. Drew Maggi got things going with a single and a walk to Raoul Torrez put Luckie in some trouble. He responded by getting a flyout to right field, but Riccio Torrez' single made it 7-3 Tigers and was the start of a big inning for the home team. A double followed to score another run and that was the end of the day for Luckie.
Zach Blatt came on in relief of Auburn, but managed just one out before Ray had to finish off the fifth. In between the Sun Devils added four more runs on three hits, a walk, and a hit batter to take the lead back 8-7 going to the sixth.
In the seventh the Tigers had a chance to tie the game or take the lead back against ace reliever Mitchell Lambsen as Morris led off with a single and moved to second on a passed ball. Following a Fletcher strikeout, McElroy lifted a single to shallow center field to put runners on the corners with one out. Showing why he was a freshman All-Pac 10 performer last year, Lambsen came back to strike out Tony Caldwell and Justin Bryant to end the Auburn threat.
With just six outs left to get at least one run, Auburn was faced with the challenge of doing it against reliever Jake Barrett as he came on for Arizona State in the top of the eighth inning. Auburn found out quickly what he was about as he struck out the first two hitters he faced before Patterson came up in a pinch hit role. Sitting dead red on a 3-1 pitch, Patterson launched his third homer of the season to right field to tie the game at eight going to the bottom of the eighth inning.
Having retired seven-straight hitters, Ray went back out in the eighth and got a ground ball from Maggi to start the inning, but McElroy couldn't make the backhand play and the error allowed him to reach first. That was all for Ray as Bradley Hendrix came on. A bunt attempt from Torrez looked to be out number one, but Hendrix dropped the ball from his glove while running to first base. Another bunt moved both runners up with the first out of the inning, bringing Hubbard in to try to keep the Sun Devils scoreless. Riccio Torrez then hit a ground ball by Hubbard on the mound. That allowed Maggi to score and put ASU up 9-8. The senior struck out Newman to end the inning, but the Tigers trailed by one heading to the ninth.
Closer Jordan Swagerty came on to finish off the game for the Sun Devils, but would have to do it against Auburn's 2-3-4 hitters. He left no doubt who was king on this night as he struck out Simpson, Morris and Fletcher to end the game and earn his fourth save of the year.
Auburn and Arizona State will play the second game of the three-game series beginning at 7:30 p.m. central time on Saturday in Tempe. Junior Cole Nelson (3-0, 1.40 ERA) will take the mound for the Tigers against junior Merrill Kelly (3-0, 4.20).