TEMPE, Ariz. -- Close counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. It doesn't, however, count in an NCAA super regional.
AP Photo/Paul ConnorsDeven Marrero brought home the game-winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning to give Arizona State a 7-6 win.
Arkansas had the nation's No. 1 team reeling, but it couldn't close the deal as Arizona State rallied to tie in the bottom of the ninth and then punched across the winning run in the 12th inning, a 7-6 victory that gives the homestanding Sun Devils a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three-series at Packard Stadium.
This one was an odd bird. Heck, Arkansas pitchers walked 13, but the Sun Devils didn't take advantage, leaving 19 on base.
Pac-10 Player of the Year Zack MacPhee struck out four times, but his dribbler to Razorbacks pitcher Jordan Pratt -- probably MacPhee's least authoritative contact of the year -- tied the game 6-6 in the ninth. Deven Marrero supplied the walk-off hit, a line drive single to left-center that plated Kole Calhoun.
"[It was] one of the best hits of my life -- I will never forget it," Marrero said of his shot that ended the game after four hours and 20 minutes.
Calhoun had an interesting night. He walked five times, ripped his fourth home run of the postseason and struck out. As for the late-inning tension, Calhoun said that was expected.
"That's how this whole series is going to be," he said.
The Sun Devils improved to 51-8 on the season -- and 35-3 at home -- while Arkansas fell to 43-20.
That Arkansas was in position to steal the game was a bit surprising. It had to send Mike Bolsinger to start the series opener because ace Drew Smyly is nursing a blister on his pitching hand. Bolsinger, who entered the game with a 6-5 record and 4.77 ERA, faced Seth Blair, who was 12-0 with a 3.06 ERA.
But the Razorbacks chased Blair after five innings after he gave up five earned runs. Moreover, until the Sun Devils' comeback, Matt Vinson was setting up to be the hero. He entered the contest owning by far the worst batting average -- .209 -- of any player in the lineup for either team. But he picked up a bases loaded walk from Blair and smacked a sixth-inning home run -- his third of the season and just his 14th RBI -- that gave Arkansas its sixth run, which stood as the winning margin until, obviously, it wasn't.
The Sun Devils had their chances before the ninth. In the seventh, Andrew Aplin was thrown out at the plate by Collin Kuhn while trying to score from second on a single to left from MacPhee. In the eighth, they had runners on first and second with no outs but Johnny Ruettiger struck out, Marrero popped to first and Raoul Torrez went down swinging.
"I definitely grew some more gray hairs tonight," said ASU coach Tim Esmay, who's trying to lead the Sun Devils back to the College World Series in his first season.
ASU got an outstanding relief outing from Mitchell Lambson, who went five innings and gave up just one hit and no runs, striking out seven.
"The key to the game is their lefty [Lambson] did a tremendous job," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said.
A week after temperatures hit 110 in the Tempe Regional, the super regional was greeted with unseasonably cool temperatures -- mid-80s at first pitch -- though a persistent northwest breeze led to some interesting moments in the outfield. Arkansas has three errors and gave up two unearned runs.
Smyly (9-1, 2.56 ERA) will start Sunday (10 p.m.) and try to force a rubber game Monday. He'll face Merrill Kelly (10-2, 3.52).