In its first road series of the season, Arizona State (12-12, 4-2 Pac-12) sent out fresh faces to the bump on Friday and Saturday. Both Sam Romero and Boyd Vander Kooi were making their first career starts in the maroon and gold outside of Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
And it showed.
Romero gave up three earned runs, Vander Kooi allowed seven. Their inexperience was eaten up by UCLA (15-5, 5-1) as the Bruins rocketed out to early leads in both games.
Sunday was different, however, and that’s probably because senior Eli Lingos has been in that position before. He’s pitched in plenty of road games in his career, had to be the stopper before and he’s operated in plenty of pitcher’s duels.
“The fact that he’s done it before – experience helps, no doubt about that,” ASU head coach Tracy Smith said after ASU’s 4-0 win. “And to have an experienced senior guy that’s been through this league multiple times, being able to give us that outing – that’s exactly what we need because we were so disappointed in how we played (on Friday and Saturday).
Lingos, who didn’t get any run support until the fifth inning, showed his experience, and his stamina in an eight inning shutout in which he threw 125 pitches while giving up just five hits and three walks. The senior was able to work out of similar jams that buried Romero and Vander Kooi in the series’ first two games.
Sunday also followed a similar script to most games ASU plays in, only it was on the right side for the first time in a week. In the Sun Devils last eight games, whatever team scores first has gone on to nab the victory.
ASU’s young bats, most of whom were playing in their first Pac-12 road game this weekend, failed to put together good at-bats early against the Bruins’ Friday and Saturday starters. UCLA’s pitchers cruised through the first few innings of both games as its offense torched the Devils starters and grabbed a quick lead.
The Sun Devils, are young though, and most have only hit the road a handful of times. Smith says that he doesn’t know if his team’s early struggles was due to nerves but did note that it’s one of many learning experiences they’ll encounter this season.
“This is the first conference road series for a lot of our team, and every time we go out is going to be better and better,” Smith said. “To come out on a Sunday after you lose a heartbreaker on Friday, you get throttled Saturday – a lot of teams would roll over, and I was very pleased that we didn’t do that.”
Through four innings, Lingos was cruising without any avail on the scoreboard. Then in the fifth inning, Gage Workman brought Taylor Lane around from first for a RBI-double that broke the 0-0 tie. An inning later second baseman Alika Williams shot a 2-RBI single down the left field line to give Lingos a solid cushion.
Coming off of three-straight losses, Smith knew how important Saturday was and he was glad Lingos was the one getting the ball. He also clarified that letting Lingos throw 125 pitches wasn’t a sign that he was hesitant to go to a bullpen that’s given up 13 runs in its last three games.
“He’s not a high, maximum-effort guy,” Smith said. “He was still, If you looked later in the game, flipping the off-speed in there for a strike was really effective for him.
“There are times in a season, and sometimes it’s not late, where you’ve got to have that win, and there’s nobody we wanted the baseball in the hands of more than him.”
After the game, Smith said the upcoming week will be very beneficial for his team because the isn’t a mid-week game and also said Romero will still be the Friday starter, noting that Friday was “just a bad outing.”