PHOENIX — In a series Arizona State (23-29, 8-19 Pac-12) has dominated in years past, with a 199-132 all time record against Arizona (36-17, 15-12 Pac-12), the Sun Devils lost its third and final game to the Wildcats on Saturday night, 9-5.
Aiding to the fire, it was the first time Arizona State got swept by rival Arizona at home since 1989 when two-time NCAA coach of the year Jim Brock was the manager.
“I get it. People want wins,” said ASU manager Tracy Smith. “But we’re moving in the right direction from a cultural standpoint and a from a personnel standpoint. It’s just not going to happen overnight in today’s world.”
Smith understands how embarrassing a home sweep to his program’s rival is. The one thing he can do and has only talked about it is the future.
“I’m looking forward to these last three games to see guys play hard and whatever, and our next challenge is to hang on to what I think is a pretty darn good class of 2017 recruiting class,” Smith said.
For the most part, it was the unproductive hitting that doomed the Sun Devils. While the Wildcats had a stupendously efficient nine runs on 12 hits, Arizona State logged four runs over 11 hits.
The Sun Devils saw impressive nights from Gage Canning (3-for-5), and Carter Aldrete and Jeremy McCuin who both hit 2-for-4, but five runs from the Maroon and Gold weren’t nearly enough.
Andrew Snow scored off a Lyle Lin sacrifice fly in the third inning and McCuin scored in the ninth when Nick Cheema earned first career hit and RBI on a double. The Sun Devils’ late inning rally would continue when Canning ripped a two-RBI triple to the wall and then Lin sent Canning home on a base hit up the middle.
Hunter Bishop, Myles Denson and Andrew Snow added hits as well, but it was Arizona’s ability to score efficiently, even if it came off errors, that put the Sun Devils under.
Through all 24 hits on the board after Saturday, Canning had an eighth of that total tallying two doubles and a triple with two RBI’s.
“Regardless of wins and losses, I’m excited that he’s going to be the guy at the forefront of our program getting it done on the field,” Smith said of Canning. “He’s a confident enough, a good enough individual and a quality enough individual that he’s going to wrap his arms around every single guy that comes into this program and say ‘this is how we do it at ASU’”
While freshman left-hander Chaz Montoya’s start was short-lived to just 2 2⁄3 innings, early inning errors didn’t help him.
A missed pop up in foul territory by Denson in left field led to two unearned runs in the first inning. Then, a botched ground ball by McCuin at third base added another unearned run in the third. By Montoya’s departure, the Wildcats led 4-0.
Righty Ryan Hingst relieved and allowed an RBI double to JJ Matijevic that put Arizona ahead, 5-1. Right-hander Alec Marsh then followed him pitching 3 1⁄3 splendid scoreless innings of relief, but was attributed a run to his night after left-handed Connor Higgins threw a wild pitch to the first batter he saw.
Higgins would finish his outing allowing no runs over 1 1⁄3 innings, before lefty Garvin Alston Jr. gave up two runs without earning an out and right-hander James Ryan allowed one Wildcat up one run over the course of 2⁄3 innings.
Though Arizona State’s pitching ranks last in the Pac-12 with a combined 5.48 ERA, Smith spoke fondly of three pitchers that he sees developing as future stars.
“A bright spot for me today — I thought Alec Marsh is starting to shape up a bit there and certainly Connor Higgins,” Smith said. “You get Marsh stepping up like he is, you get the Higgins doing it and the growth of Chaz Montoya, I think the future is bright and they’re going through some growing pains.”
Next up, the Sun Devils venture to Salt Lake City for a three game set against seventh-placed in the Pac-12 Utah (24-23, 12-14 Pac-12) starting on Friday, May 26.