When he takes a look in the dugout, or peeks at his bullpen down the right-field foul line at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, Arizona State head coach Tracy Smith isn’t often sure of what he’s going to get.
A majority of his players, and the team’s season, has been a rollercoaster thus far. At times, they shine — executing plays and at-bats that show the potential that Smith has talked up. The majority of the time, however, they make dumb mistakes, walk an abundance of batters and show why they’ve recorded back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in program history.
Being associated with a College World Series birth and ideally a National Championship is what all ASU baseball teams strive for. This team, though, will be associated with inconsistency.
On Monday, it added to that in a good way. A night after committing four errors and walking seven batters in a 12-7 loss against Pacific (20-28), the Sun Devils rebounded with a flawless night in the field and just one walk in their 8-3 win over the West Coast Conference’s worst team.
“It’s bittersweet. I just told (Sports Information Director) Jeremy (Hawkes) that I make the mistake of I get myself excited and go, ‘Ok, here we go,’ and get my heart ripped out two days later. . . it’s been a little bit of this,” Smith said while moving his hands in a rollercoaster motion.
“Im happy we won, but our story hasn’t changed. We’ll play games like this, we’ll beat some of the best teams in the country, and made it look pretty easy. Then you go out and the inconsistency piece (hits).”
The Sun Devils (21-28) know what wins games: Pitching and defense. Unsurprisingly, that has been their two worst categories. But on Monday, that changed because of who they sent to the mound. Senior starter Eli Lingos is the antithesis of ASU this season, he’s consistent.
No, he won’t completely shut a team down, but Lingos seemingly always keeps the Devils in every game he pitches.
The lefty is a ‘bend don’t break’ pitcher. He’s going to allow a decent amount of hits, but like the nine left on base Monday for Pacific, baserunners have a hard time advancing against him.
“He doesn’t have the greatest stuff in the world — it’s good,” Smith said. But if you don’t walk away from watching his performance and learn something about being competitive in the zone with your pitches and when things go his way behind him, it doesn’t effect the next pitch — that’s what he does so well.”
Smith added that Lingos is the most “vocal dude in the dugout,” making sure his teammates are always into the game. And for a young ASU team that’s mental lapses are at the forefront of many of its losses, that’s a drastic value.
“He kind of helps that defense because he’s always in the zone,” ASU freshman third baseman Gage Workman, who went 3-4 with 3 RBI, said, “always making guys make contact so the defense is always ready, on there toes rather than someone just walking the yard or kind of all over the zone. He kind of keeps us engaged in the game.”
Added sophomore left fielder Hunter Bishop: “It’s very comforting knowing when we roll out there, Eli’s on the mound. When Eli rolls out there, we know we’re going to hit.”
Lingos finished with a quality start, allowing 7 hits and 3 earned runs in 6 innings of work, and as Bishop said, the Devils did hit behind the senior.
ASU used a two-out rally in the 4th to knock in three runs and cement its pitcher with a comfortable 4-0 lead. After Workman singled, shortstop Alika Williams roped a RBI-single that scored Bishop to left to start the scoring. And Hunter Jump, who got moved into the leadoff spot for this season, finished it off with a RBI-single of his own.
The Devils cruised from there, getting added run support from Workman, who knocked in a two-RBI single an inning later and brought home another run with a double in the seventh inning. The highlight of the night, though, belonged to Bishop.
With one out in the top of the 8th, Pacific third baseman Carter Hayes hit a deep, towering shot to left field. Bishop sprinted for the left-field fence and timed his jump perfectly, securing his robbery and the best ASU defensive play this season.
HUNTER BISHOP— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) May 15, 2018
The catch of the season in left field as @HunterBishop9 soars to rob this home run and keep ASU on top! pic.twitter.com/6iwcMpHd7l
“I’d say probably the hardest part is like putting your head down and kind of feeling out where the wall is and taking your eye off the ball,” Bishop said. “It’s just kind of trusting yourself and knowing that once you see the ball off the bat, you can trust where it is.
“The jump and the catch is probably the easiest part.”