Hunter Bishop had always possessed the talent to be a star at Arizona State, but an up-and-down freshman year paired with an injury-plagued sophomore season hindered Bishop’s performance.
In year three, Bishop is fully healthy and locked in at the plate as ever. Through 15 games this season, Bishop’s play has matched his potential. His three-hit and five-RBI day in Arizona State’s (15-0) 11-6 Sunday win over Xavier demonstrated that perfectly.
His three-run blast in third put the Sun Devils on top for good. He added two more runs with a bases loaded single in the eighth. Bishop homered in each game of ASU’s sweep over the Musketeers to add to his team-lead in that category to eight.
“I’m just taking it one pitch at a time, not getting to ahead of myself if I have a bad at-bat or something like that. Just refocusing and lock in,” Bishop said.
Head coach Tracy Smith also commented on Bishop’s fast start to the season:
“He’s certainly matured, but has willingly said, ‘hey man, climb on my back, I got you,’ he said. “The best part about that is just seeing a guy that’s had some ups-and-downs. And certainly some of the personal things he’s dealing with in his life to be able and go out and focus on something for else for three and half hours.
“Kudos to him, honestly he’s done it this year ever since he got back on campus from the summer, he’s continued it on. This isn’t a fluke, this is who he is, I think he’s finally grasping that this is who he is.”
Smith’s mantra of “all hands on deck,” this season stayed true on Sunday as well.
After he pitched three perfect innings in Saturday’s win over Xavier, freshman Erik Tolman picked up the bat and started at the designated hitter spot. Despite not hitting everyday, Tolman looked comfortable at the plate with his 3-for-3 effort. He also notched a RBI-single after Bishop’s blast in the third.
“Growing up, I’ve always gone pitching and hitting,” Tolman said. “I’m more comfortable doing it than people think. And today while doing it, I didn’t feel any soreness or anything from pitching yesterday and I felt totally ready for the pitchers I was facing, I saw scouting reports. I was ready to get into the batters box.”
Tolman also added that it helps him be a two-way player when his teammates have his back on each side of the plate.
“Tolman is talented as you see on both fronts, but I think what he did today was freaking awesome,” said Bishop about his teammate. “It shows because he doesn’t get any at-bats, he pitches more than he hits and it shows how important he is. He takes batting practice and his approach to the field is freaking awesome. So, really happy for him and as you can see he can hit. It’s big for our roster he can do something like that.”
Smith alluded that Tolman was capable of being a two-way player earlier in the season, but for Tolman to preform as well as he has both ways, Smith probably couldn’t of scripted it any better. That’s not the only item that has probably worked better than Smith had planned for. The Sun Devils after Sunday stand as one of the two remaining undefeated teams in the nation along with North Carolina State.
As good as the play has been for ASU, Smith described that it hasn’t been the on-field performance that has led to the Sun Devils’ best start since his arrival in Tempe:
“The genuine passion, the genuine care that these guys have for each other. I think a lot of that has probably developed — I’ll just say it, these kids have heard nothing but negative things for a long time,” Smith said. “And when you’re constantly bombarded like that, you do one of two things. You can succumb to that and start buying into that, start making excuses or you tighten your circle, you become closer.
“For me, what I like there’s a genuine closeness with that team — you may want more of a tactical thing. I’d say yeah, defensively we’re playing better. The pitching we’re able to get guys in spots, which allow them to have a better chance in success. But I’m looking at the big pictures, I love how close this group is.”
What is on the horizon for the undefeated Sun Devils? Pac-12 play. They’ll open up conference season with a three-game set at home against Washington State this upcoming weekend. However, they’re not overlooking their mid-week contest with New Mexico State before that.
“We’re just focused on the next one,” Bishop said. “Obviously, we can look towards the end of the season. I kind of said it yesterday, we can look at regional, Omaha, whatever it might be, but I think the most important thing is just win the next one because every win matters.”
The Sun Devils and Aggies are slated for a 6:30 p.m. first pitch on Wednesday.