In just his second career start, ASU freshman pitcher Boyd Vander Kooi was deadlocked in an old-fashioned pitching duel. The moment. The situation. The next batter. Nothing seemed to faze him.
And maybe that was because he didn’t give himself anytime to think about it. The Mesa, Arizona native works quickly from pitch to pitch, confirming after the Devils 2-1 win over Saint Mary’s (4-3) that its kind of just ‘get the ball, throw the ball’ between pitches.
“Yeah, I don’t like to think about much other than attacking the zone, letting my defense work,” Vander Kooi said. “It seemed to work out today.”
Oh, yes it did. In a pitching duel that saw a combined 15 1⁄3 innings, 19 strikeouts, 11 hits and only three earned runs from the two starters, Vander Kooi came out victorious against Saint Mary’s sophomore Ken Waldichuk.
He looked poised and confident, because as he put it after the game: “I’ve been doing this my whole life.” The 6-foot-5, 210-pound freshman who sports flowing blonde locks doesn’t allow any one hit or run the chance to derail an entire inning, or outing — something ASU (3-4) has done a few times in its first seven games.
“I think the separator or two for him, and I won’t even put a qualifier on it, is his mindset — he is very mature,” Head coach Tracy Smith said when asked where Vander Kooi ranks amongst other freshman pitchers he’s coached.
But, early on, his masterful performance was being overshadowed by an even better one from Waldichuk. The Gaels pitcher had seven strikeouts and a perfect game going through 3 2⁄3 innings. . . then Lyle Lin stepped to the plate for the second time.
Waldichuk was on the verge of striking out the side, but fell behind 2-1 to Lin. The next pitch ended up in the rocks behind the Jimmy John’s sign in left field for Lin’s second home run of the season.
“It was 0-0 so I was just trying to get a fastball, obviously I wasn’t thinking about a trying to hit a home run,” Lin said. “I just tried to make contact.”
Vander Kooi finally had his run support, but the Sun Devil offense would need to get one more.
Vander Kooi had only allowed a pair of hits when he got to the sixth, but in that frame it would be doubled. Jackson Thoreson doubled down the third base line for the Gaels first extra base hit of the afternoon, and the next batter — Austin Chauvin — brought Thoreson around with a two out RBI-single to tie the game.
It took Saint Mary’s two and a half times around the batting order before it could truly do any damage to ASU’s Sunday starter. The Devils were getting a gem from Vander Kooi, and they knew it probably wouldn’t take too much run support to turn that into a win.
So in the bottom half of the sixth, ASU played small ball.
After the innings leadoff hitter, Gage Workman, singled up the middle, ASU elected to have second baseman Alika Williams (a .071 hitter) drop a bunt down the third base line to put Canning in scoring position.
The strategic move payed off as Workman was waved around third just moments later via a Gage Canning RBI single.
“When we had to, situationally, move the guy up, we got the big hit,” Smith said. “That’s what wins baseball games, doing the little games.”
With only two runs, ASU’s lead, and win, was secure.
After Sunday, Vander Kooi is 2-0 and is quickly emerging himself as the best pitcher on ASU’s staff, but Smith said that ASU is “still in no rush” to move the freshman.