Andrew Aplin

Andrew Aplin’s bat helped keep Arizona’s champagne on ice.
Photo by Crystal Ochoa/The Arizona Republic

Arizona State’s Jake Barrett struck out the Arizona WildcatsBobby Brown with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Sun Devils a 9-7 win Saturday night at Hi Corbett Field.

Everything was lined up for the UA baseball team. Oregon had lost earlier in the day to leave the BatCats alone in first place in the Pac-12. Cal State Fullerton had also lost, strengthening Arizona’s case to host its first regional since 1992.

The Wildcats had already scored twice in the final inning with a senior stepping to the plate. A base hit ties the game. A gapper wins it. The largest home crowd in 32 years was on its feet.

Brown, who was honored before the game as one of Arizona’s two seniors, was not able to recreate the hit that beat Stanford on Mar. 30. The UA’s designated hitter will have to wait another day to try and earn a Pac-12 championship ring to go with his framed jersey.

“It’s unfortunate for Bobby,” Wildcat shortstop Alex Mejia said. “He usually delivers in those situations and he will in the future.”

The Cats remain tied atop the standings but things got even more crowded. UCLA came back to beat USC which means the Bruins have forged a three-way with the Wildcats and Ducks.

With tri-leaders playing three separate games there’s no longer room to back into a conference title. Arizona can’t look for any more help. The Wildcats know they are champions if they win today. They have to assume they won’t be if they lose.

It looked like Saturday’s game in Tucson was going to be over early. The Sun Devils opened the first inning with four hits and three runs before UA pitcher Konner Wade recorded an out.

ASU center fielder and leadoff man Andrew Aplin was the catalyst. The junior sparked the first-inning rally and hit a key three-run home run in the top of fourth after Arizona had closed the gap to 4-2.

“Aplin was a one-man show tonight,” UA coach Andy Lopez said. “It’s that old axiom: Big players make big plays in big games.”

The Sun Devils took a four-run lead into the bottom of the ninth and ASU coach Tim Esmay went right back to his closer a night after Barrett gave up the game-losing hit. Big #99 let the drama build by allowing two hits, a run-scoring wild pitch and two walks. He ran the count full on Brown before the left-handed batter swung and missed to end the game and even the three-game series.

Now the weekend series on the line, the rivalry season series is on the line, the Pac-12 championship is on the line and regional hosting slots will be announced early during today’s game. Every reason in the college baseball world to come to the Hi C at high noon.

“It’s a good thing to be in this position,” Mejia said. “It’s really going to test us to see if we really want it.”

Sophomore James Farris will be the Arizona pitcher with the weight on his shoulders and his catcher is confident he’ll get the job done. “(Farris is) pretty good in key games being a Sunday guy,” Riley Moore said. “He’s had a couple rubber matches where he doesn’t want to let things go.”

This will be Farris’ eighth start in the final game of a weekend series after Arizona split the first two. The Cats are 5-2 in the previous seven series-deciding games.

“He’s got to keep his cool. He’s got to slow the game down, which he will,” Moore said. “He’s a strong mental guy so it’ll be good for him. He’s ready.”

Mejia said, “We’re going to be hungry tomorrow. I’m sure (ASU) will too.”

Fifty-four games down, a one-game season to go.

– – – – –

Scott Terrell will have the finish of the Pac-12 race live on Twitter with more on Facebook.