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ASU Baseball: Zach Dixon's complete-game shutout cements Sun Devils' weekend series win over No. 15 Cal

"Just pound the zone."

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Gather. Step. Rock back, and throw.

Just pound the zone.

Arizona State Sun Devils freshman pitcher Zach Dixon repeated this stretch 115 times on Sunday. By the last time he performed the motion, he had produced nine scoreless innings with seven strikeouts against just three hits and three walks; a line that resulted in his first career win in his first career start.

More importantly, for the Sun Devils (20-13, 6-9), it produced a 4-0 win over the No. 15 California Golden Bears, along with a résumé-buffing series victory.

"We needed this," said Sun Devils coach Tracy Smith. "It was probably more surprising than (Ryan Hingst's) no-hitter."

Coming in, Dixon had made just two appearances on the season, accumulating three walks and just one strikeout in just an inning's worth of use.

After having used seven pitchers on Saturday, Smith was down to the point where "somebody had to go." He said the stars seemed to align for Dixon — a left-hander — because ASU wanted to pit a southpaw against Cal's lineup.

It wasn't just the stars which aligned, but fate itself, it appeared.

In fact, the win marks just the fourth time in 15 games this season ASU has won while scoring four runs or less (now 4-11 in such matchups). It's the first victory in such a game since its 3-2 win over UC Davis on March 13.

Dixon's early run support came when catcher Brian Serven (2-for-4, RBI, R) and designated hitter Sebastian Zawada pelted back-to-back singles through the left side of the infield to open the second inning. With one out, first baseman Zach Cerbo chopped a slow-rolling ground ball to Cal shortstop Preston Grand Pre, whose throw to first pulled the defender off the bag, loading the bases.

Left fielder Daniel Williams connected with the first pitch he saw for an RBI single, which was ensued by a Gage Canning walk and an Andrew Snow sac fly to deep left field to tally three early runs for the Sun Devils.

It was all Dixon needed to survive.

"If we get runs or we don't, it doesn't matter," he said. "It doesn't change my mindset at all."

It was the stoic attitude that prevented the freshman from ever letting his grip of the contest go.

In the fourth inning, a single hit through a left-infield shift by Cal's Brett Cumberland and a walk by Matt Ruff placed the potentially game-tying run at bat in Nick Halamandaris.

He drove a Dixon pitch deep into right field, but Canning tracked the ball, leapt into the air and robbed the Golden Bears of an RBI-extra-base hit.

"That was huge," Dixon said, grateful of his defense's performance.

With danger still present, Dixon rallied on the next at-bat, fanning his sixth batter of the day to repel the Golden Bears' attack.

Smith said the three change-ups Dixon tossed to strike the batter out were the biggest of the game.

"Once we saw that, you could just see the confidence in him continue," Smith said. "He executed the pitches he needed to execute in a key situation in order to stay in, and then he took it from there.

"It was awesome."

"He was just really out in front of it, so I just kept that change-up really down-and-in," Dixon said of the pivotal at-bat.

The left-hander went on to continue his dominant form, getting through the eighth inning having thrown just over 90 pitches.

In the bottom of the eighth, Serven pushed across one more run on a bases-loaded single to give the Sun Devils a 4-0 advantage entering the final frame.

The ninth proved to be a nervy battle.

"The hardest out in baseball is the first one of the ninth," Smith said.

Against the first batter, Dixon fell behind 3-1 in the count, and walked him. He fell behind 2-0 against the second batter when Serven called a meeting.

"(Serven) knows this is a little bit different game for me," Dixon said. "Kind of just comes up to me, kinds of just relaxes me, and tells me, ‘Just throw it to my glove. Play catch. Just play catch and you'll be fine.'"

Dixon would battle back to get the count at 3-2 before daring the batter into a pop fly for the first out.

He quickly fell behind 2-0 against the ensuing batter before Tracy Smith visited the mound. The coach decided to leave his starter out to finish what he had started.

"I just said, ‘Hey, whatever we do, we do it aggressively. You're pitching great,'" Smith said of the visit. "You could see that he could smell the victory, and kind of was a little different."

Dixon responded with a strike, then had a pitch slapped foul down the first-base line. A ball missed wide to fill the count, then another pitch was fouled back before the batter lifted one to right field, where Canning was able to track under it for the second out.

Two away.

The next batter fouled off the first pitch, then two balls made the count 2-1.

Dixon hurled another pitch that was hit deep into right field. Canning tracked under it and fielded the final out, cementing the win for the freshman.

A complete-game shutout in his first-ever start.

Smith said that had he seen the sort of consistency Dixon displayed prior to Sunday, he would have called his number sooner.

"Now, don't anybody ask me why he hasn't been out there a lot," Smith joked afterwards.

"If they give me a chance, I try to go out there and prove that chance," Dixon said. "Getting a series win against Cal was a huge confidence boost for us."

Said Smith of the performance, "I love it. I think it's awesome. ... We wouldn't hesitate to put him out there again if we need to."

The win gives the Sun Devils a 3-1 record on the week, and its second Pac-12 series win of the campaign.

"Boy, did we ever need this," Smith continued. "But now the key is anybody -- whether it be Zach or anybody -- really you've got to back that up and be consistent."

Next up for the Sun Devils is a one-game midweek against UNLV at Phoenix Municipal Stadium at 6:30 PT on Tuesday.