PHOENIX - Clutch hits from junior outfielder Ryan Lillard and sophomore Gage Canning propelled Arizona State (18-19, 5-10 Pac-12) to a 4-2 victory over California State Bakersfield (19-14, 6-6) Saturday night at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
The Sun Devils were helped by another terrific outing from junior left-hander Eli Lingos. The Temecula, Calif. native tallied six strikeouts through 7 2⁄3 innings, allowing just one earned run and two walks.
“I thought Eli did his job, he settled in very nicely,” said ASU head coach Tracy Smith after the game. “He let us hang around until we finally cracked it in the fifth.”
The Roadrunners opened the scoring in the top of the third, as CSUB right fielder Sergio Robles lined a single back up the middle and eventually came across to score courtesy of a Mark Pena single and a groundout from Andrew Penner.
CSUB struck again in the fourth, capitalizing on an error from ASU first baseman Lyle Lin.
Roadrunner shortstop Ryan Grotjohn ripped a tough grounder off of Lin’s glove at first base and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Mahlik Jones then stepped to the plate and delivered an RBI single into left center to extend the Roadrunner lead 2-0.
The Sun Devils would finally strike back in the bottom of the fifth, tallying four runs on four hits to take the lead.
While it took Arizona State nearly five full innings to get its offense started, Smith admitted having the lineup get a second look at CSUB’s starting pitcher Andrew Hansen proved to be the difference for his squad.
“He was doing a good job of changing speeds, but the second time through the order our guys started to get a little bit smarter to understand what he was trying to do,” Smith said. “I thought we made some good in-game adjustments.”
Senior catcher Zach Cerbo lined a double into left to begin the inning and Smith made the decision to pinch hit Tyler Williams for Hunter Bishop with Cerbo in scoring position, a move that paid off as Williams would rip a single into left field, scoring Cerbo and cutting the ASU deficit in half.
Jeremy McCuin then singled to left field with two outs to score Williams, tying the game at two. The Devils weren’t done yet, as Canning would step to the plate and smack his third home run of the season off of the batting cages beyond the right field wall, scoring McCuin and giving the Devils a 4-2 lead.
B5 | Who needs a triple when you can hit one 400+?https://t.co/ERoZwOzEwW— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) April 23, 2017
Canning has been working with Smith to limit his amount of strikeouts, especially when batting with two strikes, and recognized on the fifth pitch of the at-bat what the pitcher was going to throw.
“He had come in, the last two pitches were called strikes, so I figured he was probably going to come in again with the same pitch,” Canning said. “So I was expecting a fastball and just hit it.”
Lingos remained in the game until late in the seventh inning, keeping the Roadrunners at bay until he was relieved by Connor Higgins, who notched a 1 1⁄3-inning save allowing no runs and solidifying Arizona State’s second victory in a row.
Although Smith acknowledged a sense of pride in his team after their performance tonight, he noted that it’s crucial they don’t surrender to a sense of complacency, especially with some important conference games looming on the schedule.
“We got the guys a little bit of confidence to keep going, we can’t rest on these two games,” Smith said. “From an RPI standpoint, we’re still in there. Down the stretch we’ve got some top-25 teams on the remainder of the schedule. If we get playing some good baseball, nothing’s out of the realm of possibility in terms of extending our season.”
Senior right-hander Eder Erives will take the mound tomorrow for the Sun Devils as they look to complete their second weekend series sweep in as many weekends tomorrow at 12:30 p.m.