TEMPE, Ariz. - One strike away from a win in the first game of the NCAA Tempe Super Regional, Arkansas couldn't seal the deal Saturday night.
Deven Marrero's RBI single in the bottom of the 12th inning off Arkansas reliever Brett Eibner gave No. 1 Arizona State a 7-6 win over the Razorbacks in a four-plus hour marathon at Packard Stadium. The Sun Devils lead the best-of-three series 1-0.
"Both teams were really giving it all," Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. "I hated that we didn't find a way to win but we battled and there's another game tomorrow.
"Early in the game they were one big hit away from really running away with it. We kept hanging in there."
Aplin led off the ninth inning with a walk for the Sun Devils (51-8), advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt and to third with a fielder's choice. That brought up MacPhee, who hit a slow roller down the third base line. Arkansas reliever Jordan Pratt fielded the ball but had no play on Aplin at the plate because he was running on contact and his throw to first sailed over the head of first baseman Monk Kreder.
"It's obviously one of the best college baseball games I've been involved in," Arizona State coach Tim Esmay said. "It was an incredible game. Both sides, just attack, attack, attack. There were great plays - big plays, the whole nine yards. That was incredible."
It was a nip-and-tuck affair throughout. Arizona State scored one in the second inning and two in the third to take a 3-0 lead.
But Arkansas (43-20) battled back to tie the game in the top of the fourth, scoring three runs on an RBI hit by Bo Bigham, a bases loaded walk by Matt Vinson and a fielder's choice RBI by Tim Carver.
Arizona State scored one in the bottom of the fourth on a Bigham error to go up 4-3 but the Hogs took the lead for what appeared was going to be for good in the fifth. Zack Cox led off with a double and scored on an Eibner double one batter later to tie the game. Then Bigham atoned for his mistake just minutes earlier with his second RBI hit of the night to give Arkansas a 5-4 lead.
Bigham finished the game 4-for-5 at the plate with a pair of RBIs and was part of an Arkansas offensive effort that chased Arizona State starter Seth Blair after five innings. Blair, who remained undefeated with the no-decision, tied a season-high with nine hits allowed.
"We started out good," Bigham said. "We got jumped on and got him out early int he game. We hit the ball well, we just didn't come through later on in the game and get the final run we needed."
Both teams traded solo home runs in the sixth inning - Matt Vinson for Arkansas and Kole Calhoun for Arizona State - and the Razorbacks' 6-5 lead held until the ninth inning.
That was due in part to a stellar performance from the Arkansas bullpen for most of the night. Jeremy Heatley pitched 3 2/3 innings in relief with just one earned run. He was replaced in the seventh with two runners on with two outs in favor of Pratt.
Pratt gave up a base hit to Zack MacPhee but the inning ended with Collin Kuhn threw Aplin out at the plate as he tried to score from second base, much to the chagrin of the home crowd.
"Talk about a kid making a big-time play," Esmay said. "That play was made because it was a one step catch and throw. That's not an easy play to make especially when runners are going. They're going to score no matter what. He did a great job of exchange and the other thing is he threw it accurate. If he doesn't throw it accurate on the plate we're safe. That was a big play by that young man."
Pratt worked out of another jam in the eighth inning. After the first two Sun Devils batters of the inning reached, Pratt got a pair of strikeouts and an infield fly to get out of the inning without further damage.
For the night Arizona State stranded 19 base runners.
The bullpen's work bailed out a third straight poor performance by Razorback senior Mike Bolsinger, who allowed three runs (two earned) on three hits and committed an error. Through three innings he threw 80 pitches and walked five batters in what might be his last game at Arkansas.
The Razorbacks' staff collectively walked an astounding 13 batters on the night.
"We haven't walked that many people all year and it's kind of unusual," Van Horn said. "They did a good job of taking what we gave them. They hung in there and got it done."
In the extra innings the game turned into one of dueling relievers. Arizona State left-hander Mitchell Lambson gave up just one hit in five innings and struck out seven batters in earning the win.
He was matched out-for-out by Eibner, who picked up the loss despite allowing just one hit in 2 2/3 innings.
"I thought he did a good job," Van Horn said. "He only threw a few breaking balls. I wish he maybe could have mixed in a few more but he gave us a chance. We just didn't score. Probably the key to the game was their lefty came in and did a tremendous job holding us."
Arkansas looked to have a rally started in the 11th inning when Kyle Atkins reached on a one-out walk. Eibner followed but struck out and was called for batter's interference for the second time on the night. In both instances the runner on first base had stolen second and in both instances it ended the inning.
Those were just two in a laundry list of questionable calls by home plate umpire Perry Costello, who was blasted from fans of both teams all night for his moving strike zone.
"A lot of strange things happened," Van Horn said. "There were two interference calls on strike threes. I don't know, probably a few things I can't comment on."
The two teams will meet again Sunday at 9 p.m. CDT. Arkansas will throw ace left-hander Drew Smyly needing a win to force a winner-take-all game Monday evening. Arizona State will start right-hander Merrill Kelly.
The game will be televised by ESPN2.