After an offseason filled with roster turnover for Arizona State, preseason expectations for the Sun Devil baseball team ranged from concerned, to unsure, to cautiously optimistic. It will still take a couple of weeks (if not months) until we find out just how true some of those predictions end up being, but things couldn't have gone better for the team in their season opener against Xavier.
The Maroon and Gold plated three runs in the first inning on Friday night and never looked back, eventually cruising to a 5-2 victory in front of 3,030 fans at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
All things considered, it wasn't a bad start at all for Tracy Smith's club.
"I liked the way we played defense and how guys were helping each other out," said the ASU manager after the win. "I did think we had some nervous at-bats today though."
While season openers can sometimes be nerve-racking experiences, Arizona State was able to alleviate most of those nerves with a quick jump out of the gate. After issuing back-to-back walks to start the night, Musketeer starter Zac Lowther (0-1) was taken deep to left field in the next at-bat by David Greer.
While the ball didn't quite have enough on it to climb over the fence, the off-the-wall blast was enough to score the first run of the night and put two more runners in scoring position. Soon thereafter it was five-hole hitter Colby Woodmansee getting in on the action, chopping a fastball back up the middle to clear the bases and make the score 3-0.
Center fielder Andrew Shaps then drove in a run for the Sun Devils in the second inning, bringing in Daniel Williams from second after a nifty piece of baserunning got the JC transfer into scoring position with two outs.
"We are always thinking two (bases) out of the box," Smith said when asked about the team's aggressiveness. "We have a nice blend of power and speed, and we are going to continue to recruit that way."
That aggressiveness did get Arizona State into trouble at a few different points throughout the game, including two occasions in one inning when runners were picked off on the base paths.
"It has got to get better," Smith said. "But that's going to happen. All it takes is a momentary lapse in concentration. I think the more we play, the better it is going to get."
Right-hander Hever Bueno (1-0) started the game on the mound for the Sun Devils and was impressive in 5.1 innings of work. The junior had great command of three pitches for most of the night and didn't get into any real trouble until the sixth inning.
He was removed from the game after allowing allowing a double and a walk in the sixth, but that was more as a precautionary measure more due to a little soreness than anything else. The move brought in freshman James Ryan from the bullpen, who promptly gave up the first run of the game on an RBI single to left field.
Ryan quickly settled in and settled down, however, working deep into the seventh inning without giving up another run.
Arizona State picked up an insurance run in the eighth, getting an RBI single from freshman Gage Canning to score Woodmansee and make the score 5-1. Canning was quickly erased after trying to steal second, but the night was still a successful one for the right fielder playing in his first collegiate game.
"He made good jumps on the ball," said Greer of Canning after the game. "He is really good on the balls that might have been questionable for some outfielders."
Things got a tad hairy for the home team in the ninth as Xavier ended up bringing the tying run to the plate with two outs. A sacrifice fly to right field made the score 5-2 earlier in the frame, and a hit batsmen and wild pitch uncorked by reliever Eder Erives put runners on second and third with two outs.
That sequence resulted in a trip to the mound for Smith, who immediately settled his right-hander down. Erives quickly retired the next batter, designated hitter Nate Soria, with a fly out to right field, giving his team the win and himself the save in the process.
While the Maroon and Gold may have let up a little towards the end, the night ended with a victory, and that is all that really matters for a young team looking to find its footing. After all, if you don't win the first one, you can't win them all.
Arizona State will look to continue its winning ways tomorrow, when the two teams return to Phoenix Muni for a doubleheader. The first game of the twinbill will begin at 1:00 PM, with right-hander Seth Martinez slated to get the start on the mound for the Sun Devils.