Following a 4-8 start to conference play, Arizona State manager Tracy Smith has criticized his team's consistency as the Sun Devils have had a difficult time putting together winning streaks over the last month.
With a crucial week ahead of them, the Sun Devils took a step forward Tuesday night with a 7-5 victory over Arizona in the first of five meetings this season between the two in-state rivals.
"We're in a position, in terms of postseason play, where we have to get every win we can," Smith said. "I love the fact that we started the Territorial Cup off with the first victory."
The Sun Devils sent senior Jordan Aboites to the mound to face the Wildcats. Aboites, who found out he was starting Tuesday morning via Twitter, turned in one of his best performances of the season, allowing just two earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. The right hander struck out three and surrendered just four hits.
"I was commanding my fastball pretty well," Aboites said. "My slider was pretty sharp. Those are really the two pitches I work off the most. My velocity was up a bit to start the game so that was helping to backup my slider."
The Sun Devils wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. Following a perfect top of the first from Aboites, the first three batters of the game all reached base for the Sun Devils, prompting first-year Arizona coach Jay Johnson to removes the Wildcat starter before an out was recorded in the first.
The next batter, Andrew Shaps, blasted an RBI single to centerfield to score Andrew Snow and catcher Brian Serven followed with an RBI sac fly to give the Sun Devils a 2-0 lead after the first inning.
ASU struck for two more in the bottom of the second on a two-RBI single off the bat of Colby Woodmansee that scored Gage Canning and David Greer to put the Sun Devils up 4-0 after the second.
"It helps me to stay relaxed, any pitcher wants run support like that," Aboites said about the early offense. "To have it early helped me relax and helped me go out there and do my thing without having to worry about whether it's a tie game or anything like that."
The Sun Devils manufactured a run in the bottom of the fourth to take a 5-0 lead over the Wildcats. Freshman left fielder Tyler Williams led off the inning with a double and following a sac bunt, he scored on a ground ball to second base when Arizona infielder J.J. Matejevic and catcher Cesar Salazar could not connect on the throw home.
After the Wildcats scratched a run across in the top of the fifth on an RBI ground out by Matijevic, the Sun Devils answered with an RBI fielder's choice by Tyler Williams in the bottom of the fifth and extended their lead to 7-2 on a solo home run from David Greer in the sixth.
While both teams struggled at the plate with runners on base(ASU was just 2-11), the Wildcats were just 1-11 with runners in scoring position and 4-21 with runners on base against ASU pitching.
One instance came in the top of the sixth inning with the Sun Devils leading 6-2 and a run already in for the Wildcats in the inning. With runners on second and third, freshman James Ryan was tasked with facing one of the best power hitters in the Pac-12, Bobby Dalbec.
After starting Dalbec off with a slider, Ryan threw with back-to-back fastballs and struck Dalbec out on a 90 MPH heater to end inning.
"It was a huge spot. He came in with a good fastball around 91-92 (MPH)," said Smith. "The game was still (hanging) in the balance and for him to come in and make those pitches, I thought it was a turning point because that could have been a momentum builder for them and he shut it down."
The Wildcats made things interesting in the top of the ninth as they put two runs across on Ryan, who was working his third full inning. With the tying run at the plate, sophomore lefty Eli Lingos entered the game and induced a fly out to end the drama and preserve the Sun Devil victory.
Despite it being over Arizona, this victory does not count in the Pac-12 standings. What will count is this upcoming weekend when the Sun Devils host the Pac-12-leading California Golden Bears.
A series victory would put ASU back into the postseason discussion after a rough start to conference play.
"Seems like we have been win one, lose one," Smith said. "I think we just have to focus on doing the little things and competing in the zone. Their pitching staff has one of the best pitchers in the country. We have to find a way to try to win the series."