June 13, 2010

By Tom Kessler
Special to NCAA.com

TEMPE, Ariz. - Of the 85 base hits that Pac-10 Player of the Year Zack MacPhee has collected this season, none have been bigger - or likely, shorter - than the Arizona State sophomore's game-tying single with two outs in the ninth inning Saturday night in the Sun Devils' NCAA Division I Super Regional opener against Arkansas.

With the Sun Devils trailing 6-5 and down to their last strike, MacPhee hit a chopper no more than 40 feet in front of the plate down the third-base side.

Arkansas pitcher Jordan Pratt charged in and fielded the ball, but MacPhee beat the throw to first base as his teammate Andrew Aplin scored the tying run from third. Three innings later at the sold-out Packard Stadium, the top-ranked Sun Devils scored the winning run on a walk-off single by freshman Deven Marrero to post a 7-6 victory and take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series.

"Obviously it's one of the best college baseball games I've been involved in," Arizona State coach Tim Esmay said. "It was an incredible game. For both sides, it was just attack, attack, attack."

Game 2, which will be televised live on ESPN2, will begin at 7 p.m. (PDT) on Sunday at Packard Stadium. Game 3, if necessary, is scheduled for 4 p.m. Monday. Mitchell Lambson (8-2) pitched five scoreless innings in relief - allowing just one hit and striking out seven - to earn the victory for the Sun Devils, who improved to 51-8 on the season.

Brett Eibner (3-5), who came in from center field to the pitching mound to record the final out in a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth after ASU had tied the game, took the loss for Arkansas.

"It's a shame somebody had to lose this game tonight," Esmay said following the 4 hour, 20 minute marathon. "Both sides played very good baseball."

After the Sun Devils grabbed a 3-0 lead on an RBI base hit by Raoul Torrez in the second inning and a two-run single by Marrero in the third, the Razorbacks (43-20) rallied to tie the game in the fourth against ASU ace right-hander Seth Blair. After Arizona State went ahead 4-3 with an unearned run in the fourth, Arkansas took a 5-4 lead in the top of the fifth on back-to-back doubles by Zack Cox and Eibner, followed by a go-ahead single by Bo Bigham, who went 4 for 5 in the game with two RBIs.

Freshman right fielder Matt Vinson hit his third home run of the season, a solo shot, for Arkansas in the sixth. Arizona State got that run back on a solo homer down the right-field line by Kole Calhoun (his 17th of the year) in the bottom of the sixth.

The Sun Devils had an opportunity to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh, when MacPhee lined a single to left field with two outs and runners on first and second. With ASU's Aplin rounding third and sprinting toward home plate with the potential tying run, Arkansas left fielder Collin Kuhn fired a strike to catcher James McCann, who applied the tag for the inning-ending putout.

In the bottom of the ninth, MacPhee stepped to the plate against Pratt with two outs and the game on the line. Aplin, who had led off the inning with a ground-ball single into left field, was on third base after advancing on a sacrifice bunt by Austin Barnes and a groundout by Drew Maggi. After taking a ball and two called strikes, MacPhee hit his high bouncer in front of the plate. Pratt fielded the ball and hurriedly fired over to first, but his throw was not in time to retire MacPhee, who was credited with the game-tying RBI single.

"It was a 1-2 count, up and in," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said about the pitch that MacPhee chopped down the third-base side. "He took a last-second swing, got jammed. It's the luck of the game. He did a good job of putting the bat on the ball and making us field it. It's just the way it works sometimes."

Aplin scored on the play, and MacPhee advanced to second when the throw to first got away.

"Zack MacPhee, talk about a grind," Esmay said. "Talk about, `I will not be denied.' He just battled, battled. He made contact."

The Sun Devils' winning rally in the 12th inning began when Calhoun drew his fifth walk of the game (and the 13th base on balls allowed on the night by Arkansas pitching). Riccio Torrez was then hit by a pitch, and Johnny Ruettiger laid down a sacrifice bunt that erased the middle runner.

With runners on first and third and one out, Marrero lined the first pitch into the left-center field gap to drive in Calhoun with the winning run.

"We kind of knew it was going to be like that coming in," Calhoun said about the game's back-and-forth drama. "The Razorbacks are a great team. We were coming out ready for whatever it took, whether it's nine, 10, 12 innings, however many it takes. Tonight it took 12. I'm excited to get out there tomorrow."