In 2014, the Sun Devils ended the Packard Stadium era with a 4-2 win over mid-major Abilene Christian as Trevor Allen scored the tying run in the seventh inning and won the game with his two-run single in the eighth. Fast forward a year and while ASU had no theatrics planned for its final regular season home game of the 2015 campaign, the matchup against the Wildcats was not without postseason implications.
Needing to win three out of their remaining four games to be in contention to host an NCAA regional, the Sun Devils gave junior Jordan Aboites his first career start on Tuesday night.
Eleven strikeouts later and Aboites jogged off the field to a standing ovation from the fans at Phoenix Muni, shutting down the Abilene Christian bats and leading ASU to a 4-1 win. Aboites masterfully maneuvered through the Wildcat lineup for 6 1/3 innings, allowing five hits and not letting any runners past second base in the process.
"I felt really comfortable, not real nervous at all," Aboites said. "I kind of felt like I was going back home with starting because the first time I relieved was when I got here. High school I was used to it. I knew how it kinda worked, i've been watching guys pitch here for three years so I was excited going into it."
Abilene Christian's starter Thomas Alitmont pitched commendably in his six innings, but the heart of the Sun Devil lineup made the most out of their first cracks at the Wildcat pitcher. Brian Serven led off the bottom of the second with a single to right, and Colby Woodmansee's double to center set the table perfectly for Allen.
A year after carving up Abilene Christian, Allen came through again for the Sun Devils against the Wildcats, singling up the middle to score Serven. Zach Cerbo's scored Woodmansee easily with a double to right field, and a hustling Allen scored after the throw to second base skipped past the Wildcat fielder.
Working with an early 3-0 lead, Aboites found no player in the Abilene Christian lineup that he couldn't retire, striking out the Wildcat side in the second inning to strand one of the few runners he allowed on base. In fact, Aboites' toughest inning was his first, as a pair of hits set Abilene Christian up with runners at first and second, but Aboites notched a timely strikeout of Russell Crippen and induced a fly out to end the inning.
"I was locating my fastball pretty well, I was working in and out," Aboites said. "I think being able to work the ball in tonight really set up batters up for me to throw my sliders. Some of them I didn't throw as good as others but I made the pitches I needed to late in the counts."
Looking to pad its lead in the middle innings, ASU sent David Greer to the plate in the fifth inning with a baserunner on third, but Greer struck out to end the frame and let the Wildcats out of the inning scot-free. ASU earned another chance at adding to its advantage in the sixth inning, and capitalized thanks to poor fielding by Abilene Christian. Woodmansee singled to right and after stealing second, advanced to third base on a passed ball. Joe Bielek brought him home with a sacrifice fly, and ASU led 4-0 after six.
Aboites' stellar performance wasn't without any blemishes, and Abilene Christian scored a hard-earned run that counted against the ASU starter in the seventh inning. After striking out the leadoff batter, Aboites walked Taylor Fajardo and saw his night come to a close, as Smith opted for situational matchups rather than leave his starter in. However, a wild pitch from Eric Melbostad moved an Abilene Christian runner to third base, and a groundout scored the Wildcats' only run of the night.
Smith ushered the Sun Devils through the eighth inning by making multiple pitching substitutions to maximize matchup advantages, but left the ball with David Graybill for the ninth frame of the night, and Graybill closed the deal for Arizona State.
Aboites' victory in his debut as a starter bodes well for ASU headed forward, knowing it has a guy who can come in and eat innings. Aboites entered the game with a 6.75 ERA, having found his junior season more difficult than the two years prior. But tonight's performance could be a turning point for Aboites.
"Last year he was kind of the go to guy from what everyone's told me and statistically. He has struggled a lot this year but I think he's struggled because he was not doing a good job of varying his speeds and dropping his breaking stuff over behind in the count, which he did tonight," Smith said.
"Abilene Christian is different than UClA, but if you pitch that way and you're able to throw that breaking stuff behind in the count you can do it against anybody. I didn't expect 11 strikeouts but it doesn't surprise me the way he was commanding his pitches tonight."
The win over Abilene Christian was the 200th game in which Trevor Allen play for the Sun Devils, and it was fitting he contributed in the win over the Wildcats.
"You've got to be pretty consistent for a coach to have the confidence to write you in the lineup 200 times in a four season span when you're playing 50-something games a season," said Smith. "That's a lot."
ASU now heads to Los Angeles to take on USC for their final series of the regular season. The Sun Devils enter the series needing at least a series victory to put itself in strong position to host a regional.
"We've shown up on the road in the Pac. I think the guys are excited about it," Smith said. "We want to be playing good baseball when we roll into the postseason, that's the biggest thing."