A dominant performance from Bruins right-hander Griffin Canning and a poor defensive performance by the Sun Devils helped UCLA (12-11, 5-2 Pac-12) defeat Arizona State (11-13, 1-6), 9-3, Friday night at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
The junior finished with nine strikeouts, three walks and just two earned runs through 7 1⁄3 innings, often baffling ASU hitters by pairing elite velocity on his fastball with devastating movement on his slider deep into counts.
The Sun Devils’ ace, junior Eli Lingos (3-2, 3.07 ERA), also had a productive night in the first of three games against the Bruins. The southern California native left the game after 5 2⁄3 innings, finishing with four strikeouts, two earned runs and a season-high five walks.
Lingos and the Sun Devil defense struggled early on, as the Bruins took a commanding lead in the top of the second.
UCLA freshman Kyle Cuellar drew a walk to lead off the inning, advanced to third via a fielder’s choice and an error by ASU shortstop Carter Aldrete, then came around to score on an RBI single by Bruins second baseman Chase Strumpf. UCLA would add two more runs in the inning, with Lingos allowing another RBI single and two walks that pushed across a run.
Following the game, Smith spoke on why he thought Lingos struggled with his command, but emphasized that the defense needs to improve to help his pitching staff.
“I think there was a little bit of frustration, but he wasn’t our problem tonight,” Smith said. “Our issue right now is finding a combination of guys that can field a baseball.”
A sacrifice fly from ASU freshman Hunter Bishop in the bottom of the third scored Gage Canning and brought some life to the Sun Devils, but they struggled to sustain any kind of offensive momentum in Friday night’s contest, failing to score more than one run in any frame.
Smith mentioned the team’s hitting struggles in high-leverage situations.
“Those were some of our worst at bats of the game,” Smith said. “When we had a chance to score a run.”
After regaining his command in the top of the third, Lingos struggled with it once again in the fourth. The junior allowed a hit-by-pitch and a wild pitch, creating an opportunity for UCLA with runners in scoring position. Bruins center fielder Daniel Amaral then stepped to the plate and singled to extend the lead 4-1.
Arizona State would get one back in the fifth courtesy of a Bishop RBI single, and added another in the eighth when Jackson Willeford scored on an Aldrete sacrifice fly, trimming UCLA’s lead to 4-3.
However, the Devils failed to sustain any momentum, as the eighth inning marked the third frame of the night in which ASU could muster only one run.
While the Devils’ offense had brought the team within one, ASU’s bullpen collapsed in the top half of the final frame. UCLA managed four hits, two walks and five earned runs in the ninth, increasing the Bruins’ lead to six and solidifying UCLA’s 9-3 victory.
The Sun Devils and Bruins will take the field in game two of the three-game series tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m. MT, as freshman Chaz Montoya will take the mound for Arizona State looking to build upon his 5 2⁄3 inning shutout last weekend in Los Angeles.