Streak At 24 & Counting For ASU

Chase TitlemanContributor IApril 2, 2010

MALIBU, CA - FEBRUARY 21:  Head coach George Horton #8 of the Oregon Ducks watches the game against the Pepperdine Waves on February 21, 2010 at Eddy D. Field in Malibu, California.  Pepperdine won 11-7.  (Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)
Jeff Golden/Getty Images

Arizona State University Shortstop Drew Maggi hit the first home run of his career, a solo shot in the top of the third inning on a frigid and bitterly cold Thursday night in Eugene, and it was the only run starting pitcher Seth Blair (5-0) would need as the Sun Devils continued the nations longest winning streak by defeating Oregon, 1-0.

With the victory, Arizona State improves to 24-0 overall and 4-0 atop the standings in the PAC-10 Conference.

Blair gave up 5 hits with 10 K’s, before LHP Mitchell Lambson came on in relief in the eighth. ASU closer Jordan Swagerty pitched the ninth, as the three combined on a 5 hit shut-out.

Seth had a nice clean wind-up, with loose-free actions, as the ball came out easy with some pop and deception. The fastball ran 92-94 most of the evening, with a few touches at 96.

His cutter was particularly effective, as he achieved, what I term, a flinch-freeze (what a few others term as a buckle) out of the hitters, and he also controled both sides of the plate, making life difficult for the opposing offense.

Oregon wasted a solid effort by starting pitcher Tyler Anderson (1-3, 87-89 mph) who pitched the first complete game of his career, and left to a standing ovation from a crowd of 2,114 upon the final out in the top of the ninth inning.

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Anderson’s complete game four hitter was a sterling performance for Oregon, as he chalked up 10 strike-outs on the evening.  The crafty left-hander didn’t allow a single hit after giving up a lead off single in the 4th.

The sophomore from Las Vegas, who has been Oregon’s Friday night starter from day one in the Horton era, threw 117 pitches, of which 73 were strikes.

Mixing a solid change up at times along with a deceptive wind-up, he and the 43 degree weather (it actually felt colder with the wind blowing out of the north the whole night) kept the league leading Sun Devils off balance most of the evening.

Blair threw 90 pitches on the night, 62 of which were strikes, and was particularly effective with first-pitch-strikes, 16-for-25 in that key stat category, making life easy on his defense.

Although there were several hit batters by both pitching staffs during the game, not a single walk was registered by either team, a truly remarkable effort.

Anderson, who is still an improving work in progress, tipped his change-up (his out pitch) a little too much, as Maggi sat on a change that hung out over the middle of the plate and made him pay dearly.

It was one of the few mistakes Anderson made the entire game.

With a fastball running in the range of 87-89 mph, he relied on pin-point accuracy, never throwing more than 19 pitches in one inning, and although at times he struggled with command of the strike zone, he had to be disappointed with the loss.

To hold the number one team in the country to four hits and one run, coach Horton must have been thinking he would have liked his chances if given that scenario for Arizona State before the ball game began.

The Ducks are still showing some of their youth as they wasted a good opportunity in the sixth inning.

The game wasn’t without controversy, as JC Serna (.365, 5 doubles, 1 triple, 0 home runs) was hit by Blair to lead off the sixth, but was sent back to hit when home plate umpire Chuck Lyon ruled that Serna leaned out over the plate, and made no attempt to get out of the way.

Serna grounded out to SS Drew Maggi one pitch later, and one batter later Marcus Piazzisi (.250, 4 doubles, 0 triples, 2 home runs) hit a 1-2 breaking ball off the top of the wall in left for a double, which would have potentially scored Serna from first base, especially if he was running on the play.

The ball came within a whisker of going out of the ballpark.

With one out in the inning and Pazzisi on second, Marcus attempted an ill advised early break steal from second base and Oregon ran themselves out of a golden opportunity.

He was obviously running on a tip-tendency from the scouting report, but the bold move backfired on the Ducks, and the Devils took advantage by retiring the next batter, Danny Pulfer (.240, 1 double, 1 triple, 0 home runs), on a 4-3 ground-out.

The Ducks look to regroup tomorrow evening for game two, as Oregon will start Justin LaTempa (2.45 ERA, 2-2), and he will be matched-up against Sun Devil Saturday starter, Kelly Merrill.

Oregon falls to 18-9 on the year and 1-3 in PAC-10 play.

Oregon can take perspective from this game, as in year two of the Horton era, the Ducks are playing the number one team in the country straight up to a near deadlock.

The future looks bright even though at present life is bittersweet.

With quality recruits coming in next season, Oregon will be right in the middle of the conference race much sooner than most people anticipated, and if things can turn around in a hurry this weekend, Oregon could potentially be looking at a regional berth in year two of the Horton project.

There is a big chance that Oregon may take more than just one game in this series, as Arizona State looked miserably cold in the visitors dugout most of the evening, and the Ducks pitching staff matched the Devils tit-for-tat.

Hats off to the job Tim Esmay is doing with Arizona State. Having watched the Sun Devils for years, I enjoy the demeanor, confidence and exuberance this team plays with.

Gone is the tough-guy false-bravado that was so prevalent during the Pat Murphy era, as the Sun Devils often played with the brass knuckles approach in taking on the personality of the head coach.

However, in talking with one prominent scout on the west coast, the rumor circulating is that Esmay is not even guaranteed to return next season.

When your team is 24-0 and ranked as the number one team in several college baseball polls, and both your pitching (ERA) and team batting average is in the top-five in the country, what else should a college administrator look for?

Time to take that interim tag off of Coach Esmay’s title and give the man his due!

Quotes from Coach Horton in a the Register Guard’s post-game report – “One swing dings Ducks’ chances.”

Anderson’s effort “was an excellent job and like he always does, he gave us a chance to win. We just didn’t do enough offensively.  We had a couple of shots…the problem was we didn’t put too many quality at-bats together when it mattered.”

“I thought KC was just trying to protect himself, the umpire thought he went into the curveball…always a tough call.”

Third base coach Jay Uhlman “had urged Piazzisi to run on a couple of earlier pitches, but that might have alerted the Sun Devils…I’ll take agression…we’ll get that settled down, but I like the way my team went after the game…we played to win the game.”

“There is no such thing as a moral victory, but I think we all realize we’ve got a chance at giving them their first loss.”  - George Horton, Oregon Head Baseball Coach.

Elsewhere Around The PAC-10

Washington 3 vs WSU 2 RECAP

California 7 vs Arizona 2 RECAP

UCLA 6 vs Stanford 5 (10 Innings) RECAP

Oregon State 4 vs USC 1 (10 Innings) RECAP

Elsewhere Around The Country

Texas Tech 8 vs K-State 6

Kansas 9 vs Texas A&M 5

Texas 5 vs Oklahoma 0

Louisville 12 vs Villanova 4

TCU 5 vs SDSU 1

Portland 4 vs Santa Clara 1

St. Mary’s 19 vs S. Miss 11

Rice 6 vs Houston 0

Cal Irvine 16 vs CS-Northridge 2

CS-Fullerton 20 vs Cal Davis 4

CS-Riverside 3 vs Cal Poly 2

Pacific 2 vs Long Beach State 1