In a season largely filled with frustration and angst, the Arizona State Sun Devils were able to take out some of that anger against No. 15 California on Friday night.
Taking advantage of an injury to future first-round pick (and usual Friday night starter) Daulton Jefferies, the Sun Devils jumped all over Jefferies' replacement on the mound. An early offensive onslaught paved the way to a 6-4 win for Tracy Smith's team - their second straight victory after knocking off Arizona on Tuesday evening.
"It is all about ownership," Smith said after the win. "We've got to push the buttons and make sure things happen as a coaching staff, but if you're going to be good, it really has to be player driven."
The players came out with a more focused and intense demeanor on Friday, and while they did fall behind early, the initial 1-0 deficit was merely a small bump in a road for the club.
A Tyler Williams RBI double in the bottom half of the second inning evened the ballgame at 1-1, and a base hit from Gage Canning in the next at-bat gave the maroon and gold a lead they would never relinquish on this night.
"Those were some big hits," Smith said. "(We're still trying) to get Gage to put more balls in play. It seems like when he does that, good things happen."
After Williams and Canning did their work at the bottom of the order, the top of the ASU lineup continued the offensive explosion in the third. A one-out home run to deep center from David Greer pushed the lead to 3-1, and some timely hits from Brian Serven and Ryan Lillard extended the advantage to 6-1 before Golden Bear starter Ryan Mason finally got out of the jam.
While California (20-10, 8-5 Pac-12) has been known for its ability to come back from any kind of deficit in 2016, Arizona State starter Seth Martinez, finally the beneficiary of some decent run support, made sure that wouldn't be the case on Friday.
Martinez worked seven full innings, giving up three runs on just five scattered hits. He also walked two and struck out five before exiting for the night.
"It's like I say, it is the most unimpressive quality you have ever seen," said Smith when asked about Martinez's performance. "I say it as a compliment, because he doesn't have an overpowering fastball or wipeout slider. And yet, you look up seven innings later and he's held them down."
Martinez also benefited from some tremendous defense being played behind him. In perhaps the team's cleanest game of the year, the Sun Devil fielders made numerous diving stops and catches - all of this coming in a game played with gusts of wind sometimes reaching up to 30 miles per hour.
Hey @SportsCenter, cue the theme song#SCTop10 from @andrewSnow_4 https://t.co/8qfLMgXqJdâ Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) April 16, 2016
"We made plays when we had to," Smith said. "That's the key thing."
California tried to rally in the later innings of the game, pulling to as close as 6-4 with a pair of runs in the eighth. The combination effort of Eli Lingos and Eder Erives was able to shut the door, however, sending their team to their first multi-game winning streak since back on March 13.
Arizona State is now 19-12 (5-8) and has won three of its last four games. That's not a big enough sample size to say that this team has definitively turned a corner, but things definitely seem to be trending in the right direction.
"We just know that each game provides another chance to win," says Martinez. "We are just trying to work hard each pitch and see what happens."
The Sun Devils will go for what would be a huge series win tomorrow afternoon back at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. First pitch is set for 12:00 PM, and those not at the park can watch the game on Pac-12 Arizona.