Arizona State baseball head coach Tracy Smith glanced up from the third base dugouts that he, and his SunDevils, occupy. It dawned on him.
First base? Check. Second base? Check. Shortstop? Check. Third base? Check.
At one point during Arizona State’s (2-4) 6-5 loss to Saint Mary’s (4-2), the entire Sun Devil infield consisted of all freshman. From first to third: Spencer Torkelson, Alika Williams, Drew Swift and Gage Workman were all making contributions for a team that used a total of seven freshman on Saturday.
Their spots on the field is not a move just to get prepared for the future, either. Its confirmation of how highly Smith thinks of them — a notion backed up by junior center fielder Gage Canning.
“They definitely deserve to be there,” Canning said.
And unlike in Friday’s game — a 6-1 loss to Saint Mary’s in which the freshman went a combined 1-for-15 — the Sun Devils’ first-year players were at the forefront of ASU’s offense. The group went 6-for-22 in its second game against the Gaels, knocking in four of ASU’s five total RBIs in the process.
All five came in the second inning, and the barrage of hits that seemed to be a longtime coming came from — yep, you guessed it — a freshman. Torkelson, who already had three of ASU’s four home runs on the season, smacked another one to left field. From there, it seemed like every youngster was notching a big-time hit.
Hauver, Williams and Swift each recorded a two out RBI-single after Torkelson’s home run. And as Smith said after the game: “Hitting — it’s going to come and go. It’s kind of contagious a little bit.”
For Williams, his liner up the middle was extra special. As he stepped on first, the monkey was shed — ASU’s second baseman now had a collegiate hit. The milestone is something that the Sun Devil’s Saturday starter, senior Eli Lingos, says can start a trend of things going in the right direction.
“More of our younger guys just need to have that moment because the last couple games, you could tell, he was stressing a little bit,” Lingos, who allowed three earned runs on eight hits in 5 2⁄3 innings of work, said of Williams. “(He) wasn’t happy with how he was doing.
“Today, he actually looked like he was having fun out there and like enjoying it. We’ve got to get everyone to have that moment, the realization of ‘I can do it.’”
For Arizona State’s freshman, Saturday was a step in the right direction. The process of acclimating a plethora of starters and key pieces into college baseball for the first time, while expecting them to produce right away, can be taxing. It can be long and unforgiving in the short-term.
Every game brings its own sets of firsts.
Some are bad — like the first blown ninth inning ASU has had this season coming on Saturday. But others can be rewarding, like Williams’ first hit.
Sometimes, too, as shown on Saturday, the final score isn’t indicative of the big picture.
“We didn’t win today, and the bottom line is you’ve got to win, but this team grew today,” Smith said. “We know we can win, we know we’re going to be in it. Its just going to take a mindset of playing to win, and not just trying to hold on and being timid.”
Some of that, though, is learned through experience. The freshmen have played a mere six games.
That experience isn’t just put onto the players, either, it’s put onto Smith. Say what you will about the results thus far, but he’s working with almost a brand new lineup. He’s still tinkering. He’s trying to turn the puzzle pieces in as many different ways possible until it clicks.
For the past few months, he has been saying that he’s “cautiously optimistic” with a lot of the young guys because he still hadn’t seen it “under the lights.” He has also maintained how good he thinks his team can be, it’s just waiting on getting the right players in the right spots and situations.
“When we find that right combination of guys that are out there, that are going to lay it on the line and not fear the result, I think this team has a chance to be special,” Smith said.
Figuring out if this team is special, however, will take some time.
“We’re going to play to win, and we’re not there yet,” Smith said. “We’re still, to me, in that teetering stage of ‘are we supposed to be good?’”