Sun Devils Shine Defensively and On the Mound in 2-1 Victory
by Griffin Fabits, SDA Media Relations
PHOENIX -- Backed by sharp pitching, a dazzling defensive display and a handful of timely knocks, the Sun Devils pulled out a thrilling 2-1 victory against Sacramento State Saturday night at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
Right-handed starter Tyler Thornton masterfully kept the Hornets' hitters off-balance, dancing in and out of trouble throughout the night but yielding just one run while striking out six and walking none over 5.2 innings of work. Drew Swift, who provided the offense in the opener for the Sun Devils, conjured up more heroics Saturday night, delivering the go-ahead punch in the fifth inning with an RBI single to left field.
Joe Lampe, the Sun Devils' speedy center fielder, went 3-for-3, manufacturing runs with his aggressiveness on the base paths and recording the final out of the night in center. Kai Murphy, responsible for getting the Sun Devils on the board with a solo shot in the fifth, made a pair of terrific plays in right field.
The Sun Devils were lifted with life in the fifth, and it was a Drew Swift-Nick Cheema defensive connection in the top of the inning that sparked it. Trying to hold the Hornets' lead at 1-0, the Sun Devils drew the infield in with a runner on third and one out.
Shortstop Drew Swift backhanded a hot shot off the bat of Jorge Bojorquez, and threw a dart of his back foot to catcher Nick Cheema, who had plenty of time to apply the tag to the Hornets runner attempting to score from third. It halted the Hornets' pursuit for more, and promptly parlayed into the Sun Devils' offensive outbreak in the home half of the inning. Kai Murphy led things off with a solo shot, then Drew Swift ripped an RBI single into the gap in the left field for a 2-1 lead, proving to be just enough offensive punch needed on the night.
"That was big," Head Coach Tracy Smith commented in regards to Kai Murphy's highlight-reel catch to open the game. "We had a bad taste in our mouths from last night, so we wanted to come out and set the tone. For him to do that defensively was great. That got the guys in the game...And then to hang in there on a two-strike pitch up that he hit out and got our offense going a little bit."
Local product Ethan Long (Mountain Pointe) made his first appearance as a Sun Devil out of the pen, recording a scoreless ninth to earn the save.
Outfielder Allbry Major registered his first multi-hit performance of his Sun Devil career, having accomplished the feat 30 times in two seasons at Xavier.
Redshirt freshman Joe Lampe showed Sun Devil fans a glimpse of his elite speed and ability to hit, ending up just a home run shy of the cycle. He was a perfect 3-for-3 on the night, his first three-hit night in the Maroon and Gold. Lampe had 3+ hits in seven of his 20 games at Santa Rosa College last season.
Another local product Kai Murphy (Red Mountain) made an impact, hitting his first collegiate home run to tie the game up at one.
Tyler Thornton struck out five over 5.2 innings, giving him 6 or more strikeouts in three of his first six appearances as a Sun Devil. He has gone at least 5.1 innings in all five starts and moved to 3-0 in the Maroon & Gold.
INNING BY INNING
Right-hander Tyler Thornton got the nod on the mound for his first start of the 2021 season. His first pitch of the night was skied down the right-field line, where right fielder Kai Murphy tracked it down with a phenomenal running catch before tumbling over the fence. After consecutive bloop singles, putting runners on first and second with one out, Thornton evaded further trouble by punching out the Hornets' next two batters, including cleanup hitter Dawsen Bacho. Bacho had delivered the go-ahead, ninth-inning grand slam in last night's opener. The Sun Devils' bats went down in order in the first, but a couple of well-tagged balls by Sean McClain and Hunter Jump tested the Hornets' outfielders early.
Thornton retired the first two Hornets, by way of a lazy fly out and a strikeout, before allowing consecutive base hits. With runners on first and second, Thornton again turned to his fastball when he needed it most. Locked in a 2-2 count with Hornets' leadoff man Keith Torres, Thornton painted a 90 m.p.h. fastball on the outer edge to strike him out to escape the jam. In the home half of the frame, the Sun Devils threatened and put a man in scoring position after Allbry Major laced a one-out single to center to record the first hit of his Sun Devil career. He advanced to second on a slow dribbler off the bat of Hunter Haas before being stranded there.
Thornton made quick work out of the Hornets in the third, adding two more strikeouts. He had it going early, with six punchouts through three innings, featuring a solid mixing in of his off-speed. The Sun Devils had life in the third, sparked by a fastball from Hornets' righty Travis Adams that plunked leadoff hitter Nick Cheema. Joe Lampe then floated a bloop single to right field. Cheema and Lampe advanced to second and third on a sacrifice fly. With both runners in scoring position and two outs, Hunter Jump nearly put the Sun Devils on the board, roping a ball to the Sacramento State second baseman Jorge Bojorquez, who batted it down, collected it and fired to first, resulting in a bang-bang play that saw Jump out by a half-step after a headfirst slide.
Hornets' catcher Dylan McPhillips tagged Thornton with a lead-off home run to begin the inning, to push Sacramento State out front early 1-0. Thornton remained largely unfazed and retired the next three hitters with help from his defense, marking the first inning he didn't record a strikeout. While the Sun Devils failed to respond in the fourth, Allbry Major notched his second hit of the night, this time ripping a one-out offering from Adams to left field.
Seeking to build to their lead, the Hornets threatened again. With a runner on third and one out, Thornton was paid a mound visit by pitching coach Jason Kelly, who opted to bring the infield in. It was a decision that soon paid dividends. Shortstop Drew Swift, toeing the edge of the infield grass, snared a hard-hit ball off the bat of Jorge Bojorquez and rifled an off-balance throw to catcher Nick Cheema to cut down the Hornets runner trying to score. It prompted a fist-pump from Thornton, the right-handed escape artist who then retired Ryan Walstad and left the fifth inning unscathed.
Murphy quickly made his presence felt on the other side of the ball, depositing a 3-2 pitch from Adams over the wall in right-center field for a leadoff jack to tie the game at one apiece. After a Joe Lampe hustle-double, Drew Swift, who hit a two-run triple in the fifth inning in last night's contest, drilled a base hit to left that scored Lampe from second, giving ASU its first lead, 2-1. It was enough to chase the right-hander Adams, who departed the night just after surrendering the lead. The Hornets turned to their bullpen and called on Jack Zalasky, who punched out the next two hitters to end the frame.
Thornton returned for his sixth inning of work, recording two quick outs before being lifted for lefty Justin Fall. He departed after 5.2 innings of work, yielding one earned run on six hits with six strikeouts and zero walks. The Sun Devils went down in order in the home half of the sixth, still leading 2-1.
Back out for more, Fall recorded two quick outs and worked around a two-out single to preserve the Sun Devils' 2-1 edge, thanks to a few sparkling plays by Drew Swift and Sean McClain. The Sun Devils threatened to add to their lead after a one-out triple by the speedy Joe Lampe, but failed to do so after Lampe was caught in a rundown between third and home.
The eighth belonged once again to Justin Fall, tasked with staring down the meat of the Hornets' order. After a one-out single, Fall recorded two groundouts to end the Hornets' threat, which included a tense matchup with last night's hero Bacho that Fall ultimately won.
All that stood in the way of the Sun Devils' first win of the 2021 season was the bottom of the Hornets' order, with right-hander Ethan Long called on to close the game and hold a 2-1 lead. The Hornets made it interesting, courtesy of a lengthy, nail-biting lead-off walk by pinch-hitter Martin Vincelli-Simard. The Hornets would bring the tying run to third base before Long buckled down and recorded a pair of fly outs to secure the Sun Devils' first win of the season.