June 14, 2010

By Tom Kessler
Special to NCAA.com

TEMPE, Ariz. - Drew Maggi hit a towering home run to left-center field in the 12th inning Sunday night to lift the Arizona State Sun Devils past the Arkansas Razorbacks and into the College World Series.

Maggi's two-run homer, his fifth of the season, was the difference in the Sun Devils' 7-5 victory, which gave them a 2-0 sweep in the best-of-three NCAA Division I Tempe Super Regional. The junior leadoff hitter's shot heard `round Arizona came three innings after Arkansas center fielder Brett Eibner had tied the game at 5-5 with a two-out, two-strike homer in the ninth.

"I was hoping for something to hit," Maggi said. "At that point, every at-bat is the biggest of the game."

Arizona State closer Jordan Swagerty, who allowed the home run to Eibner that delayed the Sun Devils' victory celebration and stunned the capacity crowd at Packard Stadium, sent down the Razorbacks in order in the bottom of the 12th. With Arkansas batting in the home half of each inning in accordance with NCAA tournament rules, Swagerty retired Eibner on a fly ball to left field to begin the 12th before striking out Andy Wilkins. With two outs, pinch hitter Tom Hauskey flied out to the warning track in left field, where Maggi made the catch to end the game. "I'm not going to kid you, that was a tough row to hoe," Arizona State coach Tim Esmay said about the Super Regional series that saw both games go to 12 innings. "Arkansas gave us everything that we could handle. That was two of the best games I've been involved in. Both teams just absolutely grinded it out."

After rallying to tie Saturday's series opener with two outs in the ninth and winning 7-6 in 12 innings, the Sun Devils (52-8) appeared to take control early in Sunday's Game 2.

Zach Wilson hit a solo homer down the left-field line off Arkansas ace left-hander Drew Smyly in the second inning, followed in the third by back-to-back blasts by Riccio Torrez (a two-run shot off the scoreboard in left-center) and Wilson (a high drive over the fence in right), to give the top-ranked Sun Devils a 4-0 lead.

Arizona State starter Merrill Kelly pitched 6 1/3 innings, limiting the Razorbacks to three runs on seven hits. Kelly struck out five, walked three and hit two batters. He was relieved by Jimmy Patterson with the Sun Devils leading 5-3 in the seventh.

Patterson escaped a two-on, one-out jam in the seventh when the Sun Devils turned Wilkins' fly ball to right-center into a double play. After ASU right fielder Kole Calhoun made the catch, Arkansas designated hitter Zack Cox tagged up and advanced from second to third. Trouble ensued for the Razorbacks, however, when Eibner fell down between first and second and got caught in a rundown. The play concluded when Cox tried to score and was tagged out by ASU catcher Austin Barnes on a close play at the plate.

Arkansas (43-21) pulled within 5-4 in the bottom of the eighth on a one-out double by Bo Bigham and an RBI single by James McCann, setting the stage for the dramatic ninth.

With two outs and nobody on base, Swagerty ran the count to 1-2 on Eibner before throwing a pitch that the Kansas City Royals' second-round draft pick crushed for a no-doubt homer over the left-field fence to force extra innings.

"My job is to get on base and score," Eibner said. "With two strikes, I just want to put the ball in play."

He did much more than that, connecting for his 22nd home run of the season. "I saw it going and I just turned my head," Swagerty said. "I didn't want to see where it landed."

"I didn't, either," added Maggi.

Swagerty bounced back after Eibner's homer to earn the victory, allowing just the one run on three hits in 4 1/3 innings.

"I thought `Swags' did outstanding after that," Esmay said. "He got back into the zone. He made great pitches and kept us in the game."

Maggi hit his game-winning homer with two outs in the top of the 12th, driving in Deven Marrero, who had led off the inning with a single.

With the win, Arizona State has qualified for the College World Series for the second consecutive season and the 22nd time in school history.