LOS ANGELES — The Arizona State Sun Devils claimed the rubber match of their three-game series against UCLA with a 10-4 win at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Sunday.
ASU (33-19; 15-12 in Pac-12) used multi-run first and ninth innings to capture its sixth straight series victory, while starting pitcher Jordan Aboites (6-1) delivered a quality start on the mound, taming UCLA (25-28; 12-15) less than 24 hours after it had posted 13 runs on 16 hits.
Continuing the trend of the series, the Sun Devils plated three runs on four hits in the opening frame for an early lead, allowing their starter to pitch comfortably.
"That's big," Aboites said of the early runs. "Those guys gave me run support, so it's definitely a big deal. And it helps you, encourages you to pound the zone a little more knowing you have that support."
First baseman David Greer crushed his seventh home run of the season on a two-run bomb to right center, giving ASU a 2-0 lead two at-bats into the contest.
Back-to-back singles by center fielder Andrew Shaps—who entered the tilt batting .454 in his last 11 games—and catcher Brian Serven were followed with a walk by left fielder Ryan Lillard.
UCLA head coach John Savage then decided to pull his starter, right-hander Jake Bird (1-5), ahead of facing second baseman Andrew Snow, replacing him with right-hander Scott Burke. ASU had effectively returned the favor of having its tarter chased in the previous matchup.
Snow lifted a sacrifice fly to left field which could have resulted in more damage had it not gotten caught in the breeze blowing towards right field. The score extended the Sun Devils' advantage to 3-0, before newly-inserted pitcher Scott Burke escaped the inning stranding runners on second and third.
It wasn't the last time ASU was unable to come through at the dish with runners on.
In the second inning, two walks and an error loaded the bases for Serven with two outs, but he was unable to bring anyone home.
In the fifth, designated hitter Tyler Williams drew a bases-loaded walk to push across a run. But, on the next at-bat, third baseman Jeremy McCuin grounded into a double-play, lessening the danger, despite another run coming in to make the score 6-1 in favor of the Sun Devils.
ASU ultimately managed to maintain a six-run winning margin despite stranding five baserunners between the first two innings, finishing 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position overall on the day.
Sun Devils head coach Tracy Smith said he wasn't concerned, saying his team at-bats were positive.
"It's baseball," he said. "We put good swings on them, but it just didn't happen. You hope that doesn't come back to haunt you, and it didn't."
At the plate, the Sun Devils drew 11 walks, epitomizing the patience Smith said before he expects out of his players. Once on base however, he made sure his runners displayed aggression on the base paths.
Bruins catcher Daniel Rosica entered the game having allowed 40 runners to steal safely while having only caught 12. The Sun Devils' base runners challenged him on Sunday.
Notably, Lillard—who has now reached base safely in six straight at-bats—took advantage, swiping three of the team's five total steals on the day.
"We just felt with the times we had played at, it was a good move," Smith said of his group's seven steal attempts. "Our guys did a really good job of getting jumps and running counts, and doing what we were supposed to do."
On the mound, Aboites threw a career-high seven innings, allowing three runs, eight hits, and four walks, while logging one strikeout on 109 pitches before securing his seventh win of the season.
Smith said the performance was fantastic, saying the right-hander did a great job of locating his fastball, keeping batters off balance and displaying command of the strike zone.
"Very important for him to go seven, just because of the way we're banged up," Smith said. "He did a fantastic job today."
Eder Erives (9 saves) entered in relief to begin the eighth, and pitched around a man on second facing no outs before coming out of the frame unscathed.
In the top of the ninth, the Sun Devils finally broke the game open, tallying four runs on three hits and one error, highlighted by an RBI-single by Erives—his second in three career plate appearances.
He would return to the mound in the ninth, and despite needing 44 total pitches to record the final six outs, he survived to earn the save and, more importantly, the final result.
The victory seals ASU's sixth consecutive series win.
The Sun Devils have three games remaining in the 2015-16 regular season campaign, and Smith said his team's performance this weekend characterized its focus as a unit.
"I just think it's a bunch of guys who don't really care who gets the credit," he said. "We just try to figure out a way to win anyway, anyhow."
With the regular season drawing to a close, the Sun Devils began the day two games behind conference leader Utah, and a game off of second-place Washington. Smith says he plans on competing through the season finale.
"As long as we mathematically have a chance, take it down to that last weekend, we're still playing for something," Smith said. "I don't know how it all plays out now. I know we need a little help from somebody, but we'll do the math when we get back to Tempe."
Aboites said the players are excited about getting to finish the season off at home.
"Every game matters, really," Aboites said. "Just gotta take it one game at a time, but we understand the importance of it. We're glad we're at home."
The Sun Devils will take on the USC Trojans in a three-game set to finish the season, beginning with a Friday night matchup on May 27th. First pitch scheduled for 7 p.m. PT at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.