SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. — After losing 4-2 to Cal Poly on Friday night, first baseman Rhys Hoskins said Sacramento State wasn’t going to go “two-and-que” (being eliminated after losing the two first games).
The MLB Draft prospect did his part to assure that the Hornets’ season didn’t end Saturday afternoon at Baggett Stadium. Hoskins reached base three times and cut down the potential tying runner at home in the ninth inning.
Sacramento State (40-23) scored three runs in the eighth inning to break a 2-2 tie and then held on through a wild ninth inning. In the final frame, Arizona State big bopper RJ Ybarra knocked a two-run homer and the Sun Devils (33-24) put the tying runner on third base, but Hoskins fired home on a chopper and got runner Drew Stankiewicz hung in a rundown. Alex Palsha finished off the game by striking out Trever Allen on a high curveball.
“We had a chance to get the tie in the ninth and just didn’t get it done,” Arizona State head coach Tim Esmay said. “Ryan [Kellogg] pitched well enough to win today. We just, unfortunately, gave up three runs in the eighth inning and that was the ballgame.”
Starters Ryan Kellogg and Brennan Leitao both pitched well. Both went seven innings and left the game tied 2-2. Sacramento State took a 2-0 lead in the fifth inning when Nathan Lukes shot a two-out double just inside the third base line.
His hit came immediately after a high chopper to third that Kyle Moses beat out for an infield single. Third baseman Dalton Dinatale may have actually had a play throwing behind a runner on second base, who had strayed nearly halfway. Instead, both runners were safe and Lukes capitalized by shooting a pitch the other way.
Arizona State evened the game up in the next half inning. The Sun Devils took advantage of the Hornets’ third error to load the bases and Dinatale blooped a two-run single into centerfield.
In the eighth inning, it was the Hornets taking advantage of an error. After Hoskins worked his second walk, ASU reliever Jordan Aboites induced a potential double play ball, but the ball bounced off shortstop Drew Stankiewicz and ricocheted into right field, putting runners on the corners.
David Del Grande delivered an single through the left side to score Hoskins and put Sacramento State ahead. A failed safety squeeze play followed and ended with catcher Brian Serven being forced to leave the game after being spiked above his right knee.
“That’s just guys playing hard baseball. Plays at the plate, I was a catcher, so those happen,” Esmay said.
The play seemed to rattle Aboites, who gave up an RBI single to Dane Fujinaka and a walk before being removed in favor of closer Ryan Burr. Esmay said he didn’t go to Burr earlier because he liked Aboites’ athleticism on the mound against Sacramento State’s “small ball” attack.
Burr struck out the first batter he faced, but then issued a bases loaded walk before getting a pop out to end the inning.
But the Sun Devils did not go quietly. Arizona State had hit several deep flyball to the warning track for outs, but finally got one past the warning track when Ybarra knocked a pinch hit blast over the wall in left-centerfield.
Stankiewicz and Jake Peevyhouse hit back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners with one out. Clean-up hitter Nathaniel Causey hit a chopper to Hoskins at first base, who fired it home and caught Stankiewicz in a rundown. In the midst of the pickle, Stankiewicz seemed to make contact with catcher Dane Fujinaka, but the umpires said Stankiewicz was out of the baseline when the contact was made.
The Sun Devils still had a runner in scoring position. With closer Sutter McLoughlin unavailable, setup man Alex Palsha finished the game off with a strikeout that left Trever Allen yelling and pointing his finger at the umpire.
“We believed all year long that we’re a good club that can play against anybody,” head coach Reggie Christensen said. “But now other people are going to start to believe. You’re going to see some things change on our campus in terms of facilities. It’s a big win for our program and for our university.”
Palsha collected his sixth win of the year while Aboites took the loss to fall to 5-3 this season.
“We just happened to come up short on two one-run games here in a Regional,” Esmay said.
Peevyhouse and Johnny Sewald each had two hits for Arizona State. Moses had two hits for the Hornets while Lukes drove in three runs.
The Hornets advance to Sunday’s loser’s bracket game where they await the loser of Cal Poly/Pepperdine at 1 p.m. Arizona State’s season is over after being eliminated.
Check out the 22-shot photo gallery from Game 3 of the San Luis Obispo Regional:
***The loss also signals the end of Cory Hahn’s four years at Arizona State.
“Cory Hahn is obviously a special young man,” Esmay said. “He’s just a special young man. I think he taught our guys and taught myself a lot more about life than just the game of baseball. Very proud of him. He’s going to do great in whatever he does.”