Exactly one week ago, ASU head coach Tracy “Skip” Smith sat in the same media room seat as he did on Saturday. His tone was much different, however.
Instead of joy and excitement, Smith was frustrated — disappointed with the Devils’ 6-5 loss earlier that night to Saint Mary’s. But he wasn’t keen on dwelling on the loss, he made it clear that his team had the chance to be great.
“I’m looking forward to when it all clicks and comes together at the same time,” Smith said after that February 24 game. “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.”
Unsurprisingly, some fans weren’t quite as optimistic, voicing their negative opinions throughout twitter and even inside of Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Regardless of ASU’s early struggles, Smith knew what he had — and after Saturday’s 14-2 win over Oklahoma State (5-4), ASU fans do too.
“Once this group settles in and gets back to doing what they’re doing, which you’re seeing and I’m seeing,” Smith said. “It’s a pretty good baseball team.”
Facing arguably its toughest test of the season in an OSU team that advanced to the Fayetteville Regional a season ago, ASU (6-5) looks like it has found that right combination of guys that Smith mentioned a week ago.
Instead of just just a few games under their belt, the Sun Devil freshman now have a hefty handful. The pitching rotation the Smith always noted was in flux now looks to have the right parts to keep it going. And, maybe most important, everyone is hitting.
“Hitting is contagious. Once it gets going a little bit, it makes other guys relax,” Smith said.
In its last two games, ASU has scored nine and 14 runs while racked up 14 and 16 hits, respectively. Every Sun Devil starter had at least one hit Saturday, highlighted by Gage Canning’s two triples and Gage Workman’s pair of RBI-singles.
Despite Sun Devil pitcher Eli Lingos hanging a shutout for the first five innings of the game, ASU’s bats weren’t really giving him any sort run support. It had racked up just a single run through four innings, not leaving much room for error for Lingos.
That all changed in the fifth, however, as ASU’s first four batters all got a hit and seven of its first eight that inning tacked one on as well. The Devils hung a seven-spot in the frame, giving Lingos more than enough run support.
“We know our offense can do this,” Canning said. “We hadn’t really seen it until this point and it also takes a little bit of stress off of the pitching.”
Added Workman: “It’s tough to lose when you’re scoring that many runs.”
ASU’s Saturday starter didn’t need much, either. Lingos only gave up one earned run on two hits in 5 2⁄3 innings pitched, and the guys that followed him — Jake Godfrey, Connor Higgins and Ryan Hingst — allowed just one combined run the rest of the way.
The days of ASU sending a plethora of relievers out of the bullpen seem to be over. From now on, Smith said that his pitching staff is going to be based around a limited amount of familiar faces.
“We’re going to shrink the staff,” Smith said. “My baseball mind said the numbers will start to improve a little bit. . . I don’t know too many teams in the country that are going to be 10 or 12 deep in terms of pitching staffs.
“Once you let things kind of play out early in the season, define roles for guys, I kind of expect us to be much sharper on the mound, it’s starting to play itself out a little bit.”
Lingos solid outing combined with ASU’s hot bats has set the Sun Devils up for their first sweep of the season. And with freshman Boyd Vander Kooi, who has already gone 2-0 with a 0.61 ERA in two outings this season, on the hill tomorrow — the Sun Devils know a win Sunday could be important moving forward.
“That would be a big momentum shift, I feel like, for us,” Lingos said. “Really kind of set the tone moving forward.”