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Arizona baseball squanders early chances, falls at ASU in series opener

arizona-wildcats-baseball-asu-sun-devils-recap-stats-highlights-pac12-nichols-2023 Arizona Athletics

PHOENIX—In a game with more than 280 pitches thrown, it was the choice to pass on not throwing one pitch that set the stage for Arizona’s fourth straight Pac-12 loss.

Arizona State’s Luke Keaschall hit two home runs, including a go-ahead 3-run blast in the bottom of the third, as Arizona fell 6-5 in the series opener on Friday night at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

It was the eighth consecutive conference road loss for the Wildcats (13-7, 3-4 Pac-12) dating back to last season. And like in each game of being swept last weekend at UCLA, just a few mistakes meant the difference.

“We made a lot of good plays, we made a lot of good swings, we made a lot of good pitches, we just didn’t make them at the right time,” UA coach Chip Hale said. “And that’s sort of in the story in our 4-game losing streak in conference. So we got to turn that around.”

Arizona jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first on ASU starter Ross Dunn, with Mac Bingham opening the game with a triple and scoring on an RBI single from Kiko Romero. Garen Caulfield added a run-scoring single with 2-out, part of his first career 3-hit day that included a solo homer in the 7th.

The Wildcats could have gotten more in the first but Caulfield was thrown out on the back end of a double steal attempt, and that lost opportunity began a trend. Arizona ended up leaving nine on base, including the bases loaded in the third in a 2-2 game.

Freshman Brendan Summerhill, a left-handed hitter, got the start in right field over right-handed hitting Emilio Corona, as Hale stacked the lineup with lefties against a southpaw in Dunn who had struggled with lefties. The previous three batters walked against Dunn, who threw 103 pitches in 4.2 innings, but Summerhill struck out to end the threat.

“We didn’t stay disciplined with the approach we gave them, and that’s just how it was,” Hale said. “We were trying to lay off the high pitch and we kept swinging at it.”

Arizona starter TJ Nichols went six innings, striking out seven with no walks and needing only 82 pitches, but he made two mistakes. Both were against Keaschall, the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week.

Keaschall launched a 1-0 pitch in the bottom of the first to right-center for a 2-run homer, tying the game at 2, then in the third came up with runners on 2nd and 3rd and two down. Hale opted to have Nichols pitch to Keaschall rather than intentionally walk him and on the first pitch Keaschall launched a 3-run shot that center fielder Mac Bingham almost pulled back into the park.

“Just a mistake on my part,” Hale said. “I should have taken it out of his hands and I should have just walked him. It’s just a head coach’s mistake.”

Nichols ended up allowing six runs, five earned, with the last of those proving to be the game winner in the sixth via a throwing error by Tony Bullard and a 1-out single.

Arizona’s only other hit with runners in scoring position after the first came when Caulfield singled home Cameron LaLiberte with 2 out in the fifth. Its other runs came on solo homers from Caulfield in the seventh and Kiko Romero in the ninth.

“Win or loss, you just gotta come out the next day,” Caulfield said. “It’s baseball, it happens. We were in that game the whole time, just one or two little plays that kind of gave them the win there.”

Arizona and ASU (14-8, 3-1) will play the second game of the series Saturday at 6 p.m. PT. Left-hander Bradon Zastrow is set to start for the Wildcats.