Arizona State captured the first of a three-game set with Loyola Marymount, defeating the Lions, 2-1, Friday night at Phoenix Municipal Stadium in front of 2,343.
The Sun Devils (6-3) were carried to victory by starting pitcher Eli Lingos (3-0), who delivered his third quality start of the season after tossing 7 2⁄3 innings. He allowed one unearned run on five hits amidst recording six strikeouts while issuing no walks.
“I gotta say, he’s making a believer out of me,” ASU head coach Tracy Smith said. “He’s probably for real. I’m very pleased with what he’s doing so far.”
“Consistency,” Lingos said, “that was a big problem for me last year. That was the main thing I focused on, just trying to simplify my mechanics and stay consistent, get ahead of guys.”
According to Smith, Lingos’ consistency has made him a much better pitcher this season, adding that the former Saturday starter has comfortably settled into his Friday night role as the team’s ace.
“He’s gonna go out and compete,” Smith said. “The thing you don’t have to worry about with Eli is that he’s nervous or wasn’t giving his best effort. We use him as an example for the rest of our staff. He’s done the best by far of our pitching staff of being the most consistent. You know what you’re gonna get when you’re putting him out there.”
It turned out the only way the visitors could produce any runs off the left-hander was if his defense faltered behind him—the very case when LMU left fielder Jimmy Hill scored all the way from second after first baseman Andrew Snow couldn’t corral the backend of a potential inning-ending double-play, allowing the Lions to take a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning.
Snow entered the contest with a fielding percentage of .625, and the muffed ball marked his seventh error of the year, but “in his defense,” Smith says, “he’s not played there before.”
Despite his struggles, Smith backed the junior infielder, who maintained his team-leading batting average of .500, going 2-for-4 on the evening. The third-year head coach said he’s still tinkering with the lineup, trying to work Snow in because of his ability at the plate. The veteran has seen time at third base, second base and now first base for what’s the first time in his career.
“It’s a little bit on us trying to find that competitive lineup with his in the lineup,” Smith said. “I would say you’re going to see him again out there. Because if you don’t, we’re taking out arguably one of our best hitters. But at the end of the day, defense and pitching is gonna win. If he becomes too much of a liability, then no, he’s not gonna play.”
The blunder ultimately proved irrelevant to the final outcome. Lingos remained in control of the action the rest of the way, putting the Sun Devil offense in position to need to produce just a small amount of run support on an evening where it combined to bat 3-for-15 with runners in scoring position.
The breakthrough, as it has often throughout the young stages of ASU’s season, occurred in the second half of the contest.
In the bottom of the sixth, ASU right fielder Gage Canning ripped a lead-off triple into right field over the head of LMU outfielder Niko Decolati. The connection set up a single from second baseman Jackson Willeford, who plated his first RBI of the season. No longer restricted by recent hamstring issues, the redshirt senior would later score on outfielder Andrew Shaps’ RBI single, pushing the Sun Devils ahead, 2-1.
ASU has now scored 47 of its 50 total runs in the fourth inning or later.
The Sun Devils’ bullpen found a way to hang on for the result, but just barely.
Pitchers Chaz Montoya and Ryan Hingst were each pulled after recording a single out, before left-hander Reagan Todd fought through a runners-on-the-corners scenario with two outs in the ninth, repelling the danger to record his first save of the season.
Regular closer Eder Erives has been dealing with an injury, and Smith says the team still doesn’t have a “closer guy” amongst its current bunch of other options. Smith says the team will likely insert players in according to matchups late in games like they did tonight.
“The guys we’re bringing in there I think are very capable of getting hitters out,” he said. “We’re going to try to match what we think is their best situation that allows them to get the most chances for success.
“You’re happy you won, but we’re still trying to do is measure ourselves about what caliber of play is going to give us the best chance to win the Pac-12,” Smith said.
ASU will return to Phoenix Muni on Saturday in the second match of the three-game series against LMU. Left-hander Spencer Van Scoyoc is scheduled to take the mound for the Sun Devils, with first pitch set for 6:30 p.m. Mountain Time.
- Erives, who missed the series vs. TCU with muscle tenderness, has been cleared to play Sunday.