After last Tuesday’s 14-10 home victory over New Mexico State, the Arizona Wildcats knew they were entering a part of their schedule where wins were going to be hard to come by.
A four-game Southern California road trip, which featured a weekend series at No. 1 UCLA and one game with San Diego State, preceded a three-game rivalry series up in Tempe against the 22-1 Arizona State Sun Devils.
What Arizona didn’t know however, was that after the first five of those seven straight road games, it would be winless on the trip and staring at the possibility of having a sub .500 record for the season when they return to Tucson on Sunday.
That’s the reality the Wildcats now face, after ninth-ranked ASU beat them 8-2 in Friday night’s series opener.
The Sun Devils were able to ride a good start from Alec Marsh to claim the victory and move to a remarkable 23-1 on the season.
After only recording four hits, Arizona dropped to 13-12 overall and 2-5 in Pac-12 play.
The Wildcats got a solid start from junior lefty Randy Labaut and were able to hang around in the contest until the bottom of the seventh inning, but were ultimately undone by more sloppy defense and poor relief pitching.
The Sun Devils jumped out to an early lead, after some catchable balls were allowed to drop by Tate Soderstrom and Jacob Blas in the top of the first.
Labaut was able to escape a bases-loaded jam with only one run allowed, but the cheap run that scored set the tone for the rest of the night.
Arizona never had the lead in the game.
Labaut settled into a groove after the rocky first, retiring seven straight over the course of the next two-plus innings, but Arizona couldn’t do anything offensively in the early going.
Marsh was perfect the first time through the order and the Cats didn’t record a hit in the game until the fifth, when Soderstrom doubled with two outs.
After the Wildcats were unable to capitalize on a couple of walks in the top of the fourth inning, ASU added a two runs in the bottom of the frame, making it 3-0.
Labaut gave up back-to-back doubles to start the inning, scoring the first run, before a wild pitch allowed the second run to come in.
ASU’s Hunter Bishop then hit his conference-leading 15th home run of the season in the bottom of the fifth.
After the Bishop homer there were worries that things might turn ugly, as it has more than a few times this year, but down 4-0 Labaut and Arizona didn’t quit.
They were able to make things interesting after freshmen Austin Wells and Dayton Dooney each took Marsh deep for solo shots in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively.
Trailing 4-2, Arizona then knocked Marsh out of the contest and loaded the bases with two outs, giving itself a great opportunity to tie things up or even take the lead with Cameron Cannon coming to the plate.
He popped out to end the threat.
It was the last real chance the Wildcats had of winning the game, as ASU added four more runs in the bottom of the seventh. Labaut allowed an opposite field home run, before Jonathan Guardado came in to the game and gave up three more runs.
It was another example of Arizona giving up a big inning late in a game.
Labaut took the loss on the night and is 2-3 this season. The Cats are now in a three-way tie for eighth place in the Pac-12.
The Wildcats will look to right the ship in the second game of the series, Saturday at 7 p.m. MST.