The Arizona State Sun Devils are hitting their stride, it appears, at just the right time.
Center fielder Andrew Shaps' walk-off RBI single in the bottom of the ninth gave ASU (26-15) a 1-0 win over the visiting New Mexico Lobos on Sunday, completing a three-game series sweep.
"Sometimes I see the ball, sometimes I don't," Shaps said of his game-winning hit. "Recently, I've been seeing the ball well."
The victory marks ASU's fifth consecutive series win, and its third straight victory.
Down the closing stretch of the season, momentum has been the topic of discussion as of late, and Shaps said there is a tangible presence of it within the team.
"The momentum is real, as you can see," Shaps said. "We build that momentum, we blow up. You can really sense it in the dugout. When we really lock it in and get together, and create that momentum, we're pretty good."
Although Shaps' game-winning hit will be remembered as the ultimate turning point in the game, it was the Sun Devils' pitching staff that was key to their triumph.
Left-hander Zach Dixon (1-0, 1.62 ERA) started the matchup on the hill for the Sun Devils. He struck out two batters, walked three, and conceded two hits through 2 2/3 innings before giving way to Eder Erives (5-1, 3.13 ERA).
The right-hander was nothing short of spectacular, downing seven batters in 6 1/3 innings, while only walking three and relinquishing one hit.
Sun Devils head coach Tracy Smith said his plan was to allow Dixon to go as far as he could before bringing in Erives to go the distance.
"We knew we were gonna use those two guys," Smith said. "It worked out perfectly."
Shaps said both pitchers did really well.
"When Eder's on, you know the only way the other team is going to score is if we make errors," Shaps said of Erives. "We're pretty confident, and he was obviously on today. I also thought Dixon didn't go deep through the game, but he did a really nice job of keeping us in the game."
Dixon and Erives combined to allow only three hits to the Lobos, however the Sun Devils' bats were relatively quiet, too.
The ASU offense had been hot as of late, tallying seven or more runs in five of its last seven games. On Sunday, however, Sun Devil batters collected four total hits and managed to only push across one run.
Through six innings, the group had gone 0-for-5 with runners on base and 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position.
In the seventh inning, the Sun Devils finally broke the hitless stretch when Shaps drove a single into right field for the Sun Devils' first hit of the afternoon with runners on and in scoring position, pitting runners on the corners in the process.
First baseman Zac Cerbo attempted a sacrifice bunt down the first base line, but only managed to advance Shaps to second. Third baseman Jeremy McCuin stepped into the box with a chance to score the first run of the day, but struck out, repelling the scoring threat.
Smith said Cerbo is his unit's best push-bunter, and his coaching staff agreed that one run could potentially win them the game at that point in the contest.
"Normally, we'd probably let guys swing away in that situation," Smith said. "But because we felt like Eder was on, (we thought) one run was gonna do the job."
The game remained scoreless until the bottom of the ninth.
Shortstop Colby Woodmansee would lead off the half being nailed by an errant pitch from Lobos right-hander Victor Sanchez. After a Daniel Williams strikeout, catcher Brian Serven was pelted by a pitch, pitting two runners on with Shaps stepping up to bat. Sanchez was pulled and replaced by left-hander Alex Estrella.
Shaps connected with the second pitch he saw, singling into right center, and Woodmansee coasted from second base to home for the winning run.
"I dialed in a little extra and wanted to pick us up," Shaps said. "It doesn't matter who we play, any win matters. Any series win matters. If we take it day by day, and win every game that we can, it's huge."
Entering the weekend, ASU was ranked No. 89 in RPI; conversely, New Mexico was ranked No. 54. Smith says his team treated the series as though it was a conference matchup, despite the brief intermission in Pac-12 play.
"Throw the excuses out the door," Smith said. "'We're banged up, we're injured, we're written off for dead'--I don't know. I could keep going, I guess. There's no option but to keep going and keep playing as hard as you can. We'll sort it all out at the end of the day.
"Even today, we were held in check, held in check, but we held them in check," Smith continued. "We just felt like if we hung around on long enough, we'd find a way to win this game. I think the guys believe they can win and they can beat anybody. That's a good thing, but I like this, kind of our grinder attitude."
The Sun Devils will rekindle their Pac-12 slate with a matchup against the Oregon Ducks next week. The first matchup will take place on Friday, May 6 at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, with the first pitch scheduled to be thrown at 6:30 p.m. MST.