Baseball Puts on Laser Show to Take Series from USC
PHOENIX – The laser show was in full force on Friday evening as the Sun Devil Baseball bats continued to rake in the team's series-clinching 8-2 victory over USC at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
On a night when the Sun Devils honored the career of Dustin Pedroia - including giving out bobbleheads in his likeness and having the future Hall of Famer throw out the first pitch - the team embodied his presence on the field, barreling balls all night, playing exceptional defense and grinding out innings on the mound.
ASU recorded 12 hits on the evening - the 12th time in the last 14 games it has reached double digits - and poured on the knockout punches with a pair of two-run blasts from Ethan Long and Kai Murphy in the seventh and eighth innings to pull away down the stretch.
Murphy continued his recent tear with another multi-hit night and three RBIs. Conor Davis went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and Ryan Campos and Sean McLain each added two hits as well.
Kyle Luckham worked effectively through seven innings - his team-leading fourth 7.0+ inning effort this season - working out of two bases loaded jams with no runs scored while striking out seven with no walks in his return from a four-game suspension for being ejected last weekend at Stanford.
Luckham stranded eight baserunners on the night and allowed just two runs to earn his team-leading fourth quality start of the year.
Tied at one going into the bottom of the fourth, the Sun Devils were able to put some hits in places the fielders were not, which was not as feasible earlier in the game when ASU found itself lining into some very loud outs. McLain singled and advanced to second on an Ethan Long flyout. Conor Davis drove in McLain on a single. Ryan Campos, freshman catcher, continued his impressive stint with a single through the left side to drive in Davis and make it a 3-1 game and a lead ASU would not relinquish.
THE BIG MOMENT
The seventh inning would be Kyle Luckham's final inning, and while he came out unscathed, the prospect for trouble was there. Luckham struck out all three of his outs in the seventh to cap him off at 100 pitches. In between those three strikeouts was a hit batter and two singles to load the bases in a 4-2 game. With two outs and runners on first and second and the infield playing back, USC's Tyresse Turner took advantage of his speed by laying down a bunt. Luckham went for the dribbler and attempted to make the throw to first but the off-balance throw bounced, causing Davis to shield the ball, dropping to his knees and wearing it off the his chest to prevent it from rolling into the outfield and bringing in a run. The infield single loaded the bases for the Adrian Colon-Rosado, who entered the weekend with the second-best batting average in the Pac-12 and seven homers. In gut check time, Luckham was up to task, striking out the Trojans' cleanup hitter on his 100th and final pitch of the game to strand the bases loaded.
THE FINAL STRAW
Following a tense top of the seventh came a breakthrough for the Sun Devils' offense. Going into the bottom of the seventh, the Sun Devils only had a lead of two. McLain got on base for a third time. After McLain, Long was due up, having hit a three-run home run the previous night. Mirroring the night before, Long had been hitless in his at-bats so far. Without waiting, Long swung at the first pitch he saw and took it over the sign in left center field, giving ASU a 6-2 lead. The Sun Devils were rolling comfortably with a lead as wide as four, compared to the small margin of a lead they had been dealing with. In the eighth, Tobias led off the bottom half of the inning with a walk. With one out, Murphy had a 2-0 count on his hands before sending a towering into the Sun Devil bullpen in right field for a lead of 8-2 to slam the door on any comeback efforts.
- The Sun Devils recorded double-digit hits for the 12th time in the last 14 games and 20th time in 36 games this season.
- With two more hits tonight, Ryan Campos assumed the lead in the clubhouse with a .367 average in Pac-12 games this season (18-of-49) with 10 RBIs and a .446 OBP that is second on the squad in league-only games.
- Kai Murphy has multiple hits in six of the last 10 games and his average now sits at .289 on the season when just 11 games ago it was at .210. He is batting a team-best .450 in these last 10 games with a team-best 16 RBIs. The RBIs are especially notable as he had just four in the first 26 games of the year.
- Perhaps more notable is Murphy has struck out just five times in 40 at-bats in the current 10-game tear (12.0 percent). He had 19 in his first 81 ABs (23.4 percent) to start the year and 43 in 135 (31.9) last season.
- ASU has already scored 22 runs in two games against USC - which is more than it had allowed in an entire three-game series this entire season and the most since it gave up 26 to Arizona from April 23-25 last year (13 series in that span).
- Nate Baez saw his 13-game hitting streak come to an end, though it should be noted that he has barreled balls all weekend and had a double robbed at the wall by the USC center fielder early in this one.
- ASU is averaging 10.0 runs per game in its last 11 games - and that includes being shut out in one of those - and 12.5 hits per game in that span.
- In ASU's first 19 games through the 21-0 shellacking at Oregon State, ASU was batting .240 with runners in scoring position (49-of-204). In 17 games since then, ASU is batting .321 with RISP (70-of-218).
The first inning was a quiet one for both sides. Luckham gave up a leadoff single that was erased on the first pitch in the second at-bat, with a 3-6-3 double play. A seven-pitch strikeout capped the top half of the first. Leadoff hitter, Joe Lampe, hit a ball that looked as if it would drop in the gap, but the sprinting center fielder tracked it. Sean McLain and Ethan Long hit grounders in the same proximity to the shortstop for outs two and three.
A routine grounder started the inning for the Trojans' bats. Luckham was up 2-2 on his opposition, but hit him on the arm, gifting him first base. A fly ball tapering left was caught for the second out, but a liner to center from the next batter put runners at first and second. Some danger crept in after a grounder tailed away from McLain. McLain was able to barricade the ball to keep it from going into the outfield, loading the bases, but keeping runs at bay. McLain's effort pulled off, as Luckham sent the last Trojan batter down looking to strand the bases loaded. On the first pitch of Conor Davis' at-bat, Davis smoked one down the left field line, getting to second. Ryan Campos liked the first pitch he saw, hitting one to the wall. Davis came home, and Campos saw a chance to swipe a third bag on the relay, but was thrown out on an incredibly tight call. ASU would line into two hard outs after that to keep it a 1-0 game.
Lampe was able to save a hit with a sliding catch to come down with the first out. Luckham tallied a quick second out. Looking to get out of the inning quick, the Trojans would put their first run on the board, by a towering home run to right to even the score at one. Luckham retired his next batter, leaving the damage at one very powerful swing. Murphy hit a ball to the wall, but a leaping effort from the center fielder would send ASU's right fielder back to the dugout. Lampe hit a hard grounder, but like so many other times up to this point, the contact would not amount to anything.
McLain managed to drop to his knees to catch a low liner for the first out of the fourth. Luckham struck out his third batter of the night and retired the hitter who had hit three home runs the previous night, Tyler Lozano, for the first time this game. McLain led off the Sun Devil bats, getting to first on an infield single past the third baseman and bouncing off the shortstop's glove. Long moved McLain over on a deep fly out to right. Davis, who was the first run of the game, doubled to drive in the second run for ASU. Campos popped a single in between the shortstop and center fielder, and Tobias beat the shift and hit a liner in between the bag and the third baseman to allow Davis to trot home for ASU's third run of the game and a 3-1 advantage.
Luckham collected two outs out of the gate, but a double off of the wall ruined the quick inning. The next batter hit a shallow left field single that was juggled by the left fielder, Baez, bringing in a run for the Trojans. Luckham sent down the next batter, leaving the game at 3-2. With one out for ASU, Lampe got to first as his single escaped the reach of the Trojans' shortstop. McLain's his a ball a bit too hard on a hit and run and Lampe was only able to take one base as a result. With runners on first and second, Long's flyout moved both runners over, but a pitching change managed to retire Conor Davis for the first time of the night and keep it a one-run game.
Luckham sent the Trojans' fifth, sixth, and seventh batters down in order. Campos turned a 1-2 count into a walk to put him on first with no outs. Tobias was able to move over his fellow freshman in the lineup on a ground out. Baez made a second out on a hard hit line out to left. Murphy approached the plate, with the pressing need for an insurance run and sent one right up the middle on the first pitch of the at-bat to give ASU that two-run lead.
To start the inning, Luckham laid a third strike perfectly to send the Trojan down looking. Luckham hit his second batter, and the third singled. He struck out his second batter of the inning. With two outs, the Trojan bunted to Luckham and his weak throw bounced on its way to Davis. In a play that won't show up on the scorebook, Davis dropped to his knees and took the bouncing ball off his chest, keeping it in the infield and keeping any runners from scoring despite the loaded bases. Luckham made the block count by striking out the final batter he would face - USC's cleanup hitter and one of the top hitters in the Pac-12 - cementing his third strikeout of the inning and seventh of the night to keep it a two-run game. McLain walked on a full count, bringing Long to the plate with a man on base. On the first pitch, Long launched a two-run home run to center field, putting the Sun Devils' lead at 6-2 and effectively serving as the knockout punch.
Bodlovich handled all three that were brought to the plate. Collecting two fly outs and a ground out on a 3-1 count, Bodlovich pitched to get his bats a chance at a couple more runs. Sun Devils designated hitter Jacob Tobias walked to lead off the inning. On a 2-0 count, Murphy hit a soaring shot to right into the Sun Devil bullpen to drive the nail in the coffin and make it 8-2.
Brock Peery came in to pitch, getting a groundout to begin the ninth. A triple for the Trojans called for Webster to close the game. Webster settled in and got a pop up and a strikeout to secure the victory for the Sun Devils.
The Sun Devils will look for the series sweep tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. with Adam Tulloch taking the mound against USC's Charlie Hurley. The game will be available online through the ASU Live Stream and over the airwaves on KDUS 1060 AM.