A combination of injuries and inexperience has caused the Arizona State Sun Devils to struggle all year long to nail down a third starter for their weekend rotation. The result has been an ongoing search for the Sun Devils to find consistent pitching on Sunday afternoons.
Those problems led to some indecision when it came to the question of who would start on the mound in ASU's third postseason game today.
The answer would end up being freshman Zach Dixon, who entered the afternoon with just one win on the season. And boy, did Dixon answer that call.
The freshman went eight innings in Sunday's elimination game against Gonzaga, throwing 140 pitches of six-hit, three-run baseball.
Host TCU awaits Tracy Smith's team in that championship, and since they are undefeated thus far in postseason play, Arizona State will need two wins against the Horned Frogs in order to win the regional.
Dixon (2-1) ran into some trouble early against the Bulldogs, conceding a run in the bottom half of the first on a two-out RBI double off the bat of Tyler Frost. He was able to escape the frame without any more damage, however, and from then on appeared to be on cruise control for the remainder of the day.
His offense rallied for three runs in the fourth, giving him a lead that would never be relinquished. Multiple miscues by the Gonzaga defense paved the way for those three runs to come in, starting with back-to-back walks issued by starter Hunter Wells (3-4) to open the inning.
One of those walks would come around to score on a wild pitch, and two more runs were tallied later in the frame via a Colby Woodmansee double and a throwing error by the Bulldog second baseman.
Arizona State added a single run in the fifth to give Dixon an even wider cushion, which he would eventually need after running into his first real dangerous moment of the day in the bottom half of the eighth.
Lacking velocity with a tired arm, Dixon allowed two base hits against the first three batters he faced. He then appeared to serve up a taylor-made double play ball to get out of the jam, but Jordan Aboites' throw was wide of the bag at first.
The miscue allowed Gonzaga to add its second run of the contest, and another one was scored on an RBI double off the bat of Taylor Jones. Still, Smith refused to pull Dixon from the game, and the decision paid off as the left-hander escaped via a fly out to end the inning with the lead still intact.
The Sun Devils were able to put the game on ice in the ninth thanks to a pair of insurance runs. The first came via a solo home run from freshman Jeremy McCuin, and the second was added on a sacrifice fly via Brian Serven.
Ryan Hingst came out of the bullpen in the bottom half of the inning and quickly retired the Bulldogs, picking up his second save of the season and sending the No. 3 seed back to Spokane with a 1-2 record in regional play.
The victory kept Arizona State's season alive for the time being, but the road to a Super Regional still presents many obstacles. The club will have to knock off top-seeded TCU twice (once tonight and again tomorrow afternoon) in order to advance.
First pitch of that first game against the Horned Frogs is set for 4:30 p.m. (MST). Those not at Lupton Stadium can view the game on ESPN3.