For the majority of the ballgame, the offense was not potent for Arizona State in the midst of a midweek showdown with the Pepperdine Waves (3-4). Regardless, a 4-3 ASU win tonight pointed to signs that the Sun Devils (8-0) are much more than a one trick pony.
The Sun Devils possess a pitching staff that includes just 12 arms, with five being freshmen, ultimately putting heavy emphasis on players who lack experience. But head coach Tracy Smith’s “Strength in Numbers” motto was on full display as the ASU pitching helped anchor the win.
Freshman Erik Tolman toed the rubber for his first start of his collegiate career after already making three appearances out of the bullpen this season, including tossing 1.2 innings Feb. 24 against UC Davis. In spite of an early workload, fatigue was nowhere to be seen from the southpaw as he turned in a five inning start where he did not allow an earned run, while only allowing three base hits.
“That was a quality start from him,” Smith said. “We were going to be mindful of his pitch count with the weekend coming up, but I thought he did exactly what we needed him to do, which was get to five [innings]. That was the plan going in.”
Tolman did not light up the scoreboard with overpowering velocity or a surplus of punchouts, with his fastball sitting at an average of 87 mph. However, much like the game plan of teammate RJ Dabovich in Sunday’s contest, Tolman’s ability to induce soft contact kept his outing sufficient. The lefty forced seven fly ball outs during the duration of his start and retired seven of the final eight batters that opposed him.
“The most impressive piece for me with him was pitching aggressively, changing speeds,” Smith said. “That’s a pretty good guy to run out there midweek.”
“I think of myself as a soft contact pitcher,” Tolman added. “I won’t be putting 10 K’s up, but I definitely want to have weak contact early in the count with ground balls fly outs, and if I get two strikes on a batter, that’s when I think about putting him away.”
Offensively, the Maroon and Gold could not string together much through the first six innings against Waves starter Christian Stoutland. The right-hander tied together a quality start of 6.1 innings while allowing three earned runs on six hits. Before his exit, his lone bumps in the road were a solo shot off the bat of Lyle Lin and an Alika Williams RBI infield single that brushed off Stoutland’s glove.
But moments after his removal, the late inning heroics struck at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
Trevor Hauver stepped to the plate against reliever Michael Mahoney with one on and one out, and absolutely unloaded. The sophomore outfielder drilled a two-run missile just beyond the centerfield fence for his second long ball of the year. The home run put the Devils up 4-2 in the seventh and it resulted in being the game winning hit during the Tuesday night win.
“That was probably the coolest moment of my baseball career,” Hauver said. “[Mahoney] was throwing all sliders, and I knew that going in. Luckily I worked it back to 2-2, he just hung it, I just put a good swing on it and I was able to drive it.”
Smith would call to the bullpen three separate times after Tolman’s dismissal, bringing three pitchers that, like most of the 12 on staff to this point, have been taxed through two weekends of play.
Brady Corrigan (4th appearance), Chaz Montoya (5th appearance) and Blake Burzell (4th appearance) came in for the final four frames of relief where Pepperdine plated two and threatened with an eighth inning rally. But to much of a similar storyline to Tolman, they were unfazed. Burzell battled and locked down the last five putouts to secure the win. It would mark Burzell’s first career save.
“I really wanted that win and I wanted to get my first save,” Burzell said. “I didn’t really feel any pressure.”
After he punched out infielder Billy Cook for the final out, Burzell chucked his mitt into the ground in elation, as the tightly knit group of 27 Sun Devils poured out of the dugout, fists held high into the air in celebration of their most tenacious start since 2010.
“I’m a competitor,” Burzell said with a chuckle. “It’s kind of all that hard work, 6 am lifts that we’ve done in the preseason [coming together]. “I just want us to go 56-0, every game is the biggest game.”
ASU is back in action Friday night where they will welcome in the Michigan State Spartans for the first of a three game sweepstakes. First pitch is set for 6:30 pm.