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ASU Baseball: Sun Devils stave off Washington State, 6-5

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The Sun Devils have now won back-to-back contests for the first time in a month.

Photo taken by Nick Ramirez

PHOENIX — Arizona State scored six runs through the game’s first four innings to outlast the Washington State Cougars, 6-5, at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Thursday night.

The win marks the first time the Sun Devils (14-18, 3-10 Pac-12) have won consecutive contests since their series sweep over Long Beach State when the Dirtbags visited March 10-12.

“When you’re winning you feel a lot better and more confident,” said right fielder Gage Canning, who finished the night 2-for-4 with four RBIs. “I think we’re just gonna go with it and keep trying to win.”

After ASU’s ace, Eli Lingos, took the mound during the Sun Devils’ midweek bout against UNLV on Tuesday, head coach Tracy Smith turned to freshman Chaz Montoya (3-2) to open the series Thursday. As he has for much of the year, the lefty delivered, keeping the Cougars (15-14, 2-8) at bay for much of the evening.

Washington State countered with a freshman starter of its own, sending A.J. Block (0-1) to the bump. The left-hander entered the contest having relinquished five earned runs through 17 innings pitched. The Sun Devils needed just two innings to match the near two-game total Thursday.

Left fielder Tyler Williams brought home Canning on an RBI groundout to open the scoring. His effort was followed by second baseman Taylor Lane’s RBI single that scored center fielder Andrew Shaps, giving ASU a 2-0 lead in the first inning.

In the second, shortstop Carter Aldrete and third baseman Jeremy McCuin both reached on infield singles, before Canning crushed the first pitch he saw from A.J. Block, sending a three-run homer into the scoreboard at right-center to give the Sun Devils a 5-0 lead.

The home run was Canning’s second of the season, and the second time the sophomore took an opposing pitcher deep within a four-day span. He’s now on a six-game hitting streak, and sports a batting average of .312 this season.

“That guy is steady,” Smith said. “He’s a hard worker, the guy works at his craft. It’s nice to see a guy get results like that.”

Smith said he wanted his team to score first Thursday, and it did, manufacturing early runs.

“Some of our struggles are always chasing,” he said. “I thought it was important we jumped out early.”

It wasn’t until with two outs in the third that the Cougars scored, when Montoya conceded a walk to Washington State left fielder Justin Harrer, then hit third baseman Shane Matheny with a pitch before first baseman James Rudkin hit an RBI single to score Harrer, cutting ASU’s advantage to 5-1.

The Sun Devils’ offense would answer not much later, chasing Block out of the contest by the fourth inning after Aldrete and McCuin led off the frame by reaching base via back-to-back errors. Canning hit into a fielder’s choice against lefty Damon Jones to plate Aldrete, giving the Sun Devils a 6-1 cushion.

Washington State managed to cut its deficit in half after RBI singles from Harrer and right fielder J.J. Hancock during the fifth. Montoya gave up three consecutive singles to lead off the segment, then was pulled in favor of righty Alec Marsh ahead of the sixth.

Montoya delivered another solid outing, throwing five innings, striking out one while giving up three runs (all earned) on seven hits and four walks before exiting.

“It wasn’t sharp, but he competes,” Smith said. “He looked a little tired tonight, because he was underneath the baseball on all his stuff. But again, that guy gives you five innings and we’re still in the lead, so he did his job.”

Marsh’s night didn’t get off to the best start. He surrendered walks to each of the first two batters he faced, then nearly escaped the frame unscathed, before walking the bases loaded. He was relieved by Connor Higgins, who gave up a two-RBI single to Matheny on his first pitch of the game, drawing Washington State within one run.

However, Higgins held his own the rest of the way en route to earning his second save of the year behind 3 13 innings of work. He allowed no earned runs and struck out four batters, including two in the ninth.

Higgins said senior leadership helped him channel the necessary energy to keep the visitors off the scoreboard.

“(I) just gotta go in with that closer mentality every time I go in,” said Higgins, “no matter how many runs we’re down or ahead. My goal is keep them off the scoreboard like always, just be that closer all the time.”

Aside from the two-run single, Higgins only allowed one more hit during the rest of his outing, capturing the victory for the Sun Devils in what their coach has described as a rough patch the group is keen on breaking out of.

“It’s good,” Smith said of the result, before offering a caveat mentioning his team’s seven walks. “We’ll take it, but I think all of us are realizing that we need to be cleaner than that.”

The Sun Devils and Cougars will face off in the second matchup of their three-game series on Friday, with first pitch scheduled to be thrown at 6:30 p.m. PT from Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

Smith said he hopes the team can ride the momentum moving forward.

“We would like to jump start, get some confidence going,” he said. “I want to see the team that rolled into Texas Christian on Friday night and kicked them around. Hopefully, this will get us going a little bit.”

Notes

  • Former ASU kicker Zane Gonzalez threw out the game’s ceremonial first pitch. Gonzalez has entered his name into the NFL draft, scheduled to take place April 27-29.
  • Lyle Lin has hit safely in 32 of 33 games this season following a double into the left-field wall during the second inning.
  • Smith did not name a starting pitcher for Friday’s matchup, but “will look at it” according to pitch totals. He did rule out Eli Lingos and Eder Erives, based on their recent outings (pitch totals).