In college baseball, Sunday games can be a slog. Early start times and less-effective starting pitching can lead to games dragging on, especially in the Arizona sun.
Arizona State Sun Devils freshman Boyd Vander Kooi made sure that didn’t happen in his team’s series finale against St. Mary’s.
In a brisk 2:06, Vander Kooi and the Sun Devils (3-4) avoided a sweep at the hands of the Gaels by a score of 2-1 at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
Vander Kooi used 106 pitches to hurl a pristine 7 2⁄3 innings of work, allowing a solitary run on four hits while striking out nine batters in just his second career start, both resulting in wins.
But it didn’t look that way to start out.
St. Mary’s senior centerfielder and leadoff hitter Joey Fiske lined a hard-hit single to centerfield to start the game and advanced to second base on a wild pitch during the following at-bat to put the Gaels in business early.
But Vander Kooi immediately settled in, striking out the next three batters to escape the inning unscathed.
The Sun Devils needed that, as they were kept off the basepaths until sophomore catcher Lyle Lin walloped a solo home run over the left field wall in the bottom of the fourth inning to give ASU a 1-0 advantage.
Once Vander Kooi could tell it would be a low-scoring affair, he adjusted his strategy to make sure he wouldn’t be the one to give St. Mary’s an advantage.
“I was just trying to keep my team in the game and get early contact,” Vander Kooi said. “Really just pound the strike zone so I could go later in the game and keep the score down.”
After each pitch, Vander Kooi caught the ball and was ready near immediately to throw again, forcing the Gaels back into the batter’s box against a variety of pitches. After throwing nearly all fastballs a week ago, he varied his approach more often against St. Mary’s.
“I used by curveball a lot more today,” Vander Kooi said. “Not only did it make my fastball more effective, but it kept hitters off-balance.”
Aside from back-to-back two-out hits that scored a run in the sixth inning, Vander Kooi accomplished that goal and kept the Sun Devils, who finished with seven hits, in a position to win.
“I thought he did an excellent job of competing in the zone, letting his defense work behind him,” head coach Tracy Smith said. “He didn’t get rattled, made some big pitches when he needed to.”
That’s been the theme of Vander Kooi’s brief career. In the first game of the second double-header between the Sun Devils and Miami (OH) last week, he did a lot of the same when he threw 7 innings of five-hit ball in an 11-1 win over the Redhawks.
At just 18 years old, Vander Kooi has shown the maturity of a veteran, but it’s just another day at the office for him.
“It’s the game of baseball and I’ve been doing it for my whole life,” Vander Kooi said. “There’s nothing that changes other than that it’s a higher level.”
With such a measured approach, Vander Kooi behaves beyond his years, which will serve him well moving forward, especially comparing his performance with the rest of the starting rotation to this point of the season.
Outside of Vander Kooi, senior Eli Lingos and sophomore Spencer Van Scoyoc each carry ERAs over 4.00 in their first two starts. Smith has said on multiple occasions that the starting rotation remains fluid, so what does that mean for Vander Kooi?
“We’ll look at everything as a staff,” Smith said. “He’s definitely an option, but I think you have to look at what’s the best thing certainly for the team, but also what’s the best thing for his development.: