OMAHA–Power proved the difference in Saturday’s UC Irvine-Arizona State game. The Sun Devils had the power bats and the power arm out of the bullpen, and that proved enough to overcome Irvine’s trademark high-pressure attack. ASU scored all of its runs via three homers, including Ike Davis’ game-winning solo shot in the eighth inning, and flame-throwing closer Jason Jarvis shut down the Anteaters over the final two frames to preserve a 5-4 Sun Devil victory.
Matt Spencer’s long three-run homer to right field against sophomore righthander Scott Gorgen gave Arizona State a 3-0 lead in the second inning. Gorgen later admitted that he was pitching out of character, especially early on, as the rush of emotions and the heat kept him from getting comfortable. Still, the All-American pitched very well for most of the game, striking out nine over seven innings of work.
Gorgen took the blame for Spencer’s home run–he grooved a fastball in a 2-0 fastball count–and for C.J. Retherford’s solo shot to left-center in the fifth inning. But he credited Davis for sitting on a quality changeup in a 1-1 count in the eighth inning, breaking a 4-4 tie.
“The last one by Davis, I threw probably one of the best changeups I threw all day, and he was sitting on it,” Gorgen said. “I have no doubt in my mind that he knew that pitch was coming, he sat on it, and that’s going to happen.”
Of course, Davis has another version of the at-bat.
“I was sitting fastball, and he threw me a changeup over the middle, and I just put the head out there and got a piece of it,” Davis said. “I was looking fastball all game.”
The point is, Gorgen’s changeup is his best pitch, and it’s very good, but Davis was good enough to hit it out of the ballpark even when he was looking for a fastball. And that was the difference today, in a nutshell: the Sun Devils simply have more firepower, and they were able to take advantage of the wind blowing out.
“They were able to lift some balls over the fence today, and we weren’t, and I know that’s kind of their M.O. as a team, they’ve been doing that all year long,” UC Irvine coach Dave Serrano said. “Their guys got some pitches to hit and made us pay for it, and that was obviously the difference in the game today. But it’s hard for me to be disappointed in my young men. They fought, just like we have all year long, we just came up a little short today.”
Serrano said that he’s been to Omaha before with teams that have played out of character and been embarrassed in their first game, but he wasn’t embarrassed by the Anteaters today, and he shouldn’t have been. After falling behind early, UCI battled back to take a 4-3 lead by stringing together five consecutive hits against ASU starter Mike Leake in the fourth inning. And Gorgen can say he was out of character, but the fact is he pitched well against the nation’s best offense and gave his team a chance to win.
“I thought they played really well,” Sun Devils coach Pat Murphy said. “I thought their pitcher was great.”
But the freshman Leake showed impressive poise, getting out of the fourth inning by inducing a big ground ball to sure-handed shortstop Andrew Romine with runners on second and third to keep the deficit at one run. Then he settled down, holding the Anteaters hitless and scoreless for the next three innings before handing off to Jarvis.
UC Irvine stuck with Gorgen for 119 pitches, mostly because he’s been a horse over the last month but partly because they didn’t have the luxury of going to a shut-down closer once Gorgen started to tire. Serrano has confidence in Dylan Axelrod and Tom Calahan, but those guys don’t have Jarvis’ 92-94 mph heat. Once Jarvis, another freshman, entered the game in the eighth inning, he simply overpowered the ‘Eaters, striking out three and allowing just a walk in two innings of work.
“Jason Jarvis was magnificent again,” Murphy said. “Our pitching staff is pretty underrated, but Leake has been carrying a huge role all year, and the guys trust him. And the defense played pretty well today, and I’m proud of our ballclub.”
The last point is why Arizona State is so dangerous. The Anteaters played a solid game and executed very well, as they always do, but it wasn’t enough. The Sun Devils have more power bats than any other team in Omaha, but they’re also well coached and are not going to beat themselves. Their .978 fielding percentage this season is the best in the nation, they can pitch, and they have poise.
All those elements kept them in the game today until their sheer firepower could finish the job.