Phoenix Municipal Stadium is no stranger to drama, so it was fitting Arizona State’s opening series against Northwestern ended with it.
Shortstop Jeremy McCuin and catcher Sam Ferri each connected on two-RBI doubles in the bottom of the eighth to propel the Sun Devils (3-0) to a 6-2 win over Northwestern on Sunday. The victory secured a season-opening sweep in front of 1,560.
The Sun Devils’ four-run eighth inning proved to be the difference in a contest which featured a break in action that lasted over 24 hours. Sunday’s contest was originally postponed because of rain Saturday, and its resumption was pushed back from 12:30 p.m. and 2 p.m., before ultimately starting at 2:30 p.m. No innings were to be started after 4:45 p.m. in order to accommodate Northwestern’s flight plans, regardless of the result.
“Weird is definitely one way to say it,” pitcher James Ryan (1-0) said of the extended intermission, before McCuin added, “It was a strange weekend.”
“We were at the field, we were hanging out. We didn’t know if were were gonna play, we didn’t know anything,” the sophomore said of the wait. “Then we go out there (today) and we win three ballgames.”
How they reached the result may have been odd, but the outcome was all too familiar for the Sun Devils.
ASU head coach Tracy Smith noted his latest teams have played in several dramatic finishes at Muni similar to their second and third tilts of the current campaign. He says he likes it.
“You hope that these games pay off for you down the stretch,” Smith said. “It seems like all of the games are nail-biters here, but I think we do a pretty good job here just managing our emotions.”
The scene was relatively calm through the middle of the contest.
ASU freshman Lyle Lin (3-for-4, double, RBI) continued his hot start with an RBI-single in the bottom of the third to give the Sun Devils a 2-1 lead, however they conceded it the following frame.
Sun Devils freshman pitcher Zane Strand — who assumed the mound in a 1-1 contest replacing original starter Spencer Van Scoyoc, who worked through 2 2⁄3 innings during Saturday’s portion of the game — suffered what Smith described as an elbow injury. The right-hander was removed after completing just 2⁄3 inning of work in his collegiate debut in favor of Reagan Todd.
Todd struck out the first two batters he faced before Northwestern outfielder Grant Peikert brought home a runner the redshirt-sophomore inherited from Strand on an RBI single, tying the game at 2-2. Todd managed to get out of the inning with his third strikeout of the day, stranding runners on second and third to enter the fifth tied.
He would toss a three total innings before Ryan relieved him in the top of the seventh. The two combined to keep the Wildcats’ offense at bay, as neither conceded a baserunner after the fourth inning.
“That was huge,” Smith said of his pitchers’ performance. “Making those holds in the middle inning is something that we’ll have to have if we wanna be a good baseball team, and we like our options.”
The strong pitching performance made way for the Sun Devils offense to show up late.
With one out in the eighth, McCuin struck an RBI-double into left-center to give ASU a 4-2 lead. Moments later, pinch-hitting catcher Sam Ferri slapped an RBI-double into right, extending the Maroon & Gold’s advantage to 6-2.
Ryan closed the door in the top of the ninth, with a 1-2-3 inning, capturing the series finale and series sweep.
“I was proud of the guys,” Smith said. “For a first weekend, for a lot of new guys, a lot of guys playing different positions in different lineups, I liked the way we competed.”
The Sun Devils will next play Tuesday when they host Oklahoma State at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, with first pitch scheduled for 1 p.m. Mountain Time. Smith said he expects left-hander Zach Dixon to start for ASU.
Lyle Lin became the first ASU true freshman with three hits in a single game since Colin Curtis in 2004, according to Sun Devil Athletics.
Last time a true freshman notched 3 hits in a single game on Opening Weekend?— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) February 19, 2017
Colin Curtis in 2004. Freshman @lin_lyle has three tonight. pic.twitter.com/buiYw16YIA