TEMPE, Ariz. – It was as easy as 1-2-3.
That was how the University of Arizona baseball team escaped a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the ninth inning as it held on to upend 15th-ranked Arizona State, 7-6, and capture a series-clinching victory on Sunday afternoon at Packard Stadium.
The Sun Devils trailed by a run entering the bottom of the ninth inning when Kasey Coffman singled and Michael Benjamin reached on a bunt single after a miscommunication prevented the Wildcats from recording an out on the sacrifice bunt attempt.
Facing senior reliever Augey Bill, James McDonald then tried to move the runners on a sacrifice attempt of his own, but first baseman Joseph Maggi charged the play hard, came up with the bunt and fired to third to retire the lead runner, leaving runners on first and second with one out.
Bill then walked Max Rossiter which loaded the bases and put the tying run on third and the winning run on second for Nathaniel Causey, who was 0-for-3 entering the final at-bat.
Causey chopped an 0-1 pitch back to the mound, where the 6-foot-9 lanky lefty corralled the ball, tossed to catcher Riley Moore, who then relayed a throw to Maggi at first to complete a 1-2-3 double play that ended the game and preserved a critical win for the Wildcats, who took the season series from the rivals for the second-straight year.
The late drama overshadowed a gritty pitching performance from Glendale, Ariz., native Tyler Crawford, who tossed 7.1 innings less than 24 hours after picking up a save for an inning in relief on Friday night.
Despite allowing six runs on eight hits, Crawford (W, 6-2) kept the Wildcats in the game long enough to overcome several deficits and ultimately take the lead for good.
Arizona (31-21, 12-15 Pac-12) opened the scoring with a run in the first inning. Trent Gilbert doubled and later scored on Moore's two-out single.
Arizona State (34-17-1, 15-12) answered with a an unearned run in the second inning when shortstop Kevin Newman's attempt at completing a double play resulted in an errant throw, which allowed Causey to score.
In the third inning, Johnny Field singled and stole second, then advanced to third when the throw to second skipped into the outfield grass. After Gilbert drew a walk, Dixon drove in Field with a sacrifice fly to push Arizona ahead, 2-1.
The Sun Devils answered with three runs in the home half of the inning. Jake Peevyhouse tripled to open the frame, before Coffman hit a two-run home run to put Arizona State on top, 3-2.
Michael Benjamin and McDonald followed with consecutive singles and Rossiter drove in the third run of the inning with a single to center.
However, Crawford settled down. The lefty struck out Causey and coaxed an inning-ending double play from Trever Allen to limit the damage.
That allowed Arizona to rally back with a three-run inning of its own and regain the lead in the fourth.
With one out, Jordan Berger singled, Zach Gibbons walked and Cody Ramer reached on a bunt single. Maggi followed with a bases-clearing double to the gap in right-center to drive in three runs and put Arizona on top, 5-4.
The five runs in 3.2 innings were charged to right-hander Zak Miller, who ultimately did not factor into the decision. That was because the Sun Devils grabbed the lead again in the bottom of the fourth.
Dalton Dinatale was hit by pitch from Crawford with one out and then moved into scoring position on a single by Peevyhouse. After Coffman popped out, Benjamin roped a two-out, two-run double into left-center to erase a one-run deficit and hand Arizona State a 6-5 lead.
Surprisingly, the Sun Devils would not score again over their final at-bats, while Arizona wasted no time tying the game.
In the fifth, Moore and Newman drew consecutive walks to open the inning against reliever Adam McCreery, who gave way to Josh McAlister.
Berger sacrificed the runners into scoring position, before Gibbons bounced a ball to shortstop Drew Stankiewicz, who was unable to field the ball cleanly. Moore scored the tying run and the Wildcats had two runners on base, but McAlister escaped the inning when he induced an inning-ending double play off the bat of Ramer.
The game remained tied at six apiece until the eighth inning, when Maggi led off with a single against lefty Matt Dunbar. Field bunted Maggi to second for the first out, and Gilbert flied to center for the second out.
The Sun Devils brought in right-hander Darin Gillies to face Dixon with the go-ahead run at second. Dixon roped a slider into left field, and Maggi easily scored with what proved to be the winning run.
Closing out the game was not easy.
Crawford ran out of gas in the eighth inning when a leadoff walk was issued to Rossiter and a subsequent wild pitch allowed the tying run to move into scoring position. The next batter, Causey, then popped up, and the Wildcats called on Mathew Troupe to take over.
Troupe quickly got Allen to ground out to second bases, as Rossiter advanced to third with two outs. But Troupe issued back-to-back walks to Stankiewicz and Dinatale, which loaded the bases.
Arizona then brought in Bill, and the senior was able to get Peevyhouse to ground out to end the inning.
The Wildcats went quietly in the top of the ninth inning and were forced to cling to their one-run lead. Despite loading the bases, Bill escaped and earned his second save of the season.
Arizona will conclude its regular season schedule next weekend with a three-game set against USC at Hi Corbett Field. The series begins on Friday, May 26, at 6 p.m. at Hi Corbett Field.