Sound Baseball Earns Sun Devils Friday Night Victory Over Utah
PHOENIX – The #19 Sun Devil Baseball team simply played "good baseball" on Friday night, relying on head's up baserunning, solid defense and getting big pitches when it mattered in a 4-3 victory over Utah at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
The Sun Devils played errorless ball on defense, stranded 13 Utah baserunners and scrapped together a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to go ahead for good and earn the team's first Friday night victory of the year.
Twice ASU got out of bases loaded jams with only one out without allowing a run to score, including a huge moment from freshman closer Ethan Long in the bottom of the eighth as he induced a shallow fly ball to freeze the baserunner at third before getting out of the frame with a lineout en route to his third save of the year.
No Sun Devils had a multi-hit game as, instead, seven Sun Devils logged a hit – but none as important as Blake Pivaroff's pinch hit RBI single in the seventh that put ASU ahead for good. Seth Nager would pinch run for Pivaroff, stealing second and taking third on a throwing error to put himself in position to score on a two-out Utah error – a run that would inevitably prove to be the difference in the game.
Time and time again, the Sun Devils were able to fend off Utah rallies, stranding 13 runners on the base path and keeping things tied at 2-2 through the seventh inning stretch. Kai Murphy led the bottom of the inning off with a double and took third on a flyout to get into scoring position with one out. Blake Pivaroff stepped to the plate for his third pinch hit of the season, and like the other two, responding with a base hit to right field to bring Murphy across for the go-ahead run. Seth Nager took over as pinch runner for Pivaroff, stealing second base and utilizing head's up baserunning to take third as well as the throw skirting into the outfield. That would prove to be a vital moment as it put him in position to score two batters later on a two-out infield error from the Utes – an insurance run ASU would need after Utah notched one back in the top of the eighth.
Tyler Thornton didn't have his best stuff tonight, but he still grinded out innings and kept ASU in position with his eight strikeouts in four innings. The writing was on the wall for a disastrous beginning as Utah took a 2-0 lead early in the third and came out in the fourth with a chance to blow the game open, putting runners on second and third with no outs. Thornton got a big strikeout for the first out of the frame but hit the next batter to load the bases with one out. The sophomore got out of it though with his eighth and final strikeout of the day before inducing an inning-ending flyout to get out of the jam and ASU capitalized by tying things at two in the bottom half of the frame.
Utah threatened again in the top of the eighth inning, taking advantage of a pair of free bases with an RBI single to get back within a run. With runners on the corners and just an out, Ethan Long entered the game. Utah stole second to put two runners in scoring position and Long walked the first batter he faced to load them up with just an out. The freshman remained cool under pressure, relying on his fast ball to get a huge shallow fly ball to right to a charging Kai Murphy. Murphy timed the ball perfectly and froze the runner at third base from scoring. Long induced a lineout to end the frame and give ASU yet another big escape from a bases loaded jam.
"We ought to probably drop our 'small ball' verbiage because, honestly, what I would call it is just good baseball. We're running the bases well. We're not – right now – having a lot of maturity on the offense side of the team. So, we have to do those little things well. We have to run the bases well. We have to take the next base when they throw to the wrong base and those types of things. So, I'm going to stop calling it small ball and I'm going to call it good baseball. As long as you keep playing good baseball and you pitch it and play good defense, you're going to put yourself in a place to win games" – head coach Tracy Smith on the team's ability to manufacture runs.
- ASU stranded a season-high 13 Utah baserunners on Friday, twice getting out of bases loaded jams with one out without allowing a run to score – once by Tyler Thornton in the fourth and again by Ethan Long in the eighth.
- The Sun Devils have yet to lose a game in which Tyler Thornton has started at ASU, going 7-0 in those contests.
- Ethan Long has yet to allow a run in 5.1 innings of work this year, earning three saves in the process.
- Sean McLain and Hunter Haas extended their hitting streaks to seven games.
- Dating back to last year, ASU has held opponents to five runs or fewer in 23 of 25 games in the Jason Kelly era.
- Blake Pivaroff is 3-for-3 on the season – all in pinch hit at bats.
INNING BY INNING
Utah opened the game with a 10-pitch at bat that resulted in a walk that was quickly erased from the board on a nice play by Kai Murphy in right as he ranged well to his left on a line drive attempted hit-and-run, making the snag and easily doubling up the baserunner at first to keep Utah off the board.
Utah led off with a double and later added a walk but Thornton got two strikeouts to keep the Utes scoreless while ASU went down in order for the second-straight inning.
Utah finally got a hold of one on a one-out, two-run homer to take an early lead, though Thornton struck out the side to avoid further damage. ASU got a leadoff double from Sean McLain in the bottom of the frame but couldn't bring him across.
Thornton stepped up in gut-check time, keeping Utah from blowing the game open despite having the bases loaded with one out by not allowing a run. ASU rewarded him with back-to-back singles from Hunter Haas and Hunter Jump to leadoff the bottom of the frame. Jump had some heads up baserunning as Haas went first to third and took second base. Nate Baez gave one a ride to deep center field, advancing both runners with the RBI sac fly. Sam Ferri tied things up with an RBI ground out to make it 2-2.
Jared Glenn entered and put together a quick 1-2-3 inning on just nine pitches while ASU posted another scoreless frame.
With runners on first and second and two outs, Graham Osman spelled Jared Glenn and got a big fielder's choice to keep Utah off the board but the ASU bats fared no better.
Utah had another pair of base runners on walks but Cam Dennie cleaned things up with the final out on a strikeout. ASU took its first lead of the game behind a Kai Murphy double followed by an RBI single from Blake Pivaroff two batters later. Seth Nager's head's up base running proved to be the difference in the game as he would score the insurance run on a two-out error and give ASU a 2-0 lead.
Free bases again almost proved to be ASU's undoing as Utah pushed one across on an RBI single following a HBP and a walk. Ethan Long entered and faced the bases loaded with one out but got a huge defensive play from Kai Murphy in right to keep the runner at third at bay before inducing a lineout to Drew Swift to keep ASU on top, 4-3.
There was no drama in the ninth as Long posted just the second 1-2-3 inning of the night for ASU with a strikeout followed by a nifty diving grab from Seth Nager in left field. Long did it himself for the final out, making the catch in foul territory on a pop-up to earn his third save of the season and give ASU it's fourth win in a row.
The Sun Devils will have a rare chance to take the series in the second game tomorrow afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. AZT and the game will be featured on the ASU Live Stream and over the airwaves at KDUS 1060 AM. LHP Tyler Thornton will toe the rubber for ASU against Utah's LHP Kyle Robeniol.