Slowly but surely, No. 25 Arizona State (16-0) upended New Mexico State (14-4) 7-3 in a game that lasted nearly four hours on a windy night at Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Wednesday night.
It might have taken some time but it wasn’t an issue for the Devils so long as they got the victory in a midweek game before the beginning of Pac-12 play.
Only one hitter in the Aggies’ starting lineup was hitting under .300 and they had been bashing the ball around the park prior to their trip to Phoenix.
What was the key ingredient to the 16th consecutive ASU win? It was a whole lot of junior center fielder Hunter Bishop. He was 4-4 with three RBI’s and two home runs. The monster performance helped catapult the Sun Devils over the Aggies. Even though Bishop was the star of the show, he credited his teammates for the big night.
“I am just staying with my approach but it’s easy when you got a guy like this (Trevor Hauver) hitting in front of you and Tork,” said Bishop of his offensive performance. “It goes without saying but they take a lot of the pressure off my shoulders with how good they are and how they pitch him. They have got to throw me pitches.”
Bishop’s first home run sailed over the right center field wall in the third inning while the other one was a lined shot in the bottom of the eighth that hit the top of the wall and caromed just over it.
The offense was important, but perhaps Bishop’s biggest play of the evening occurred with the glove. With two runners on in the top of the third inning and with ASU already leading 2-1, Bishop scaled the wall to snag a ball that seemed to be carrying over the fence.
The grab occurred with two outs in the inning and it was a big New Mexico State momentum killer.
“Four-run swing. It was really a four-run difference on that,” said Smith of Bishop’s robbery. “It took three off the board and then he got one himself. He is playing at a high level...That was a heck of a play because if that thing goes out there and we don’t make that play, who knows how that game goes? I have been on the other side of those sometimes and it takes the wind out of your sails. That was a huge play.”
Bishop was key but there were other players who stepped up for the Sun Devils. Sophomore shortstop Alika Williams had two hits and two RBI’s as he knocked in the first two runs in the bottom of the first inning.
Additionally, sophomore outfielder Trevor Hauver was 3-4 with a solo home run.
As for the pitching duties, senior Sam Romero started the game before exiting after 2.2 innings. It was a win by committee effort from the staff. They had five different arms come into the game.
Freshman Blake Burzell relieved Romero but he came in for just two outs before he was relieved. Smith noted the reason for the pitching change was low velocity and not wanting to risk any fatigue with his young pitcher heading into conference play.
According to Smith, Burzell pleaded to stay in the game but it was to no avail. The trio of freshman Erik Tolman, sophomore Brady Corrigan, and junior Chaz Montoya then came on to close things out.
“We had to make better pitches and smarter decisions when we were on the mound,” said Montoya of the staff’s performance. “That was pretty much what we took into this. We are not going to be the team that gives up BP fastballs today. We have to locate...I think that really worked out for us.”
Despite only giving up three runs, Smith still thought the efforts of the pitcher could improve and there were other areas to sharpen heading into Pac-12 play. Avoiding leadoff walks, which occurred twice on Wednesday, was a point of emphasis.
Nonetheless, it all ended well in a long night at the ballpark. ASU found a way to get the job done. At 16-0, it’s now time for the excitement and the real tests to begin in Pac-12 play, which kicks off on Friday against Washington State.
“I think tonight, clearly we seemed a little tired and our energy level was down. It was just kind of a weird game to me,” Smith said. “...We are 16 games in and we have hit a little bit of maybe an emotional lull. Well now we don’t have to say anything because conference starts. The fact that it’s conference at this point, it’s going to inject some of that energy and bring some newness to what we are doing.
My hope and my desire is that we don't feel like we have to do anything differently...There are some things we need to shore up, but I don't think any major overhauls going into Friday.”