The Sun Devils' strong performances on the mound lifted No.24 ASU to a 3-2 upset win over second-ranked Arkansas.
The Razorbacks came into Thursday's game with only one loss, but ASU's freshman sensation Brett Lilek dazzled on the mound in his first career start.
The left-handed pitcher allowed one run through five innings of work and he struck out six Razorbacks without allowing a walk. His stat line was not the reason his outing was so impressive.
In the second inning, Lilek worked himself out of a bases loaded, no out situation and struck out the next three batters with unbelievable gas to escape the inning unscathed. Fast-forward three innings and in another bases loaded situation, this time with one out, Lilek struck out the remaining two Razorbacks.
"Playing a team like Arkansas is a big deal for our guys and it's a big deal for our freshmen," head coach Tim Esmay said. "(The second inning) was a game changer. You got to remember now, this kid was pitching against Chicago high school kids last year and here is against Arkansas pitching in the second inning with bases jammed and he comes out and strikes out the side."
Coach Esmay said that Lilek will be a starter for the Sun Devil program in the future, but he likes using him now as a spot starter and a young man who can eat up a ton of innings in early relief pitching.
Basically, Esmay made it clear that there is no need to rush Lilek into a starting role because he is taking the same path as Sun Devil greats Mike Leake and Brady Rodgers.
When Lilek took a seat in the dugout after the fifth inning, the Sun Devil bullpen rose to the occasion and kept the win in tact for the Illinois native. Alex Blackford and Ryan Burr closed out the game for ASU, allowing just one run and striking out five in the process.
This was the fourth year Blackford pitched in Surprise Stadium and his perfect inning showed the fans that he was in his groove. He mentioned after the game that he
What's almost equally as impressive is the fact that Arkansas sent one of their best major league prospects, Ryne Stanek, to the mound and the Sun Devil freshman out-pitched him
"He is good. I walked out of the game going that kid is real good. It's a young season so far for us but even going back to last year and guys that pitched in the PAC, we're not going to face anything better," Esmay said.
Three runs was all that was needed for the Sun Devils to secure the victory in Surprise. Second baseman James McDonald had another great game, extending his hitting streak to a team-high seven games. McDonald also drove in two runs, including a double in the eighth inning, which turned into the eventual game winner.
"He's always been a good hitter and we've got to live off some of our older guys and kind of give us some grind out at bats until the freshmen settle in," Esmay said.
The only negative comment from tonight's win was that the team needs to focus on its fielding because they cannot afford to commit two errors on a nightly basis, especially to a team that's ranking inside the top ten.
In case you were wondering, March 2011 was the last time the Sun Devils beat the No.2 team in the NCAA.
The Sun Devils job is not complete as they play the University of Pacific on Friday with ace Trevor Williams on the mound and the rest of the regular starting rotation to close out the weekend.
The team's next win will mark head coach Tim Esmay's 350th career win as a collegiate coach and his 150th as the head coach of Arizona State.
"I'm a Sun Devil. I was born and raised a Sun Devil so I didn't even realize that (I am almost at a milestone). Just being able to be a big part of this program is exciting for me," Esmay said.