In the opening set of a three-game series, the Pac-12’s toughest offensive team in the Arizona State Sun Devils (23-1, 6-1 Pac-12) displayed what the club has done best through its first 24 games, as they took down over the Arizona Wildcats (13-12, 2-5) 8-2.
That robust trait being their ability to hit the long ball, as two key home runs were the anchor in the Friday night victory. The Maroon and Gold came into the weekend leading the Pac-12 in home runs (38) by 14, a total that placed them at fourth in the country.
Up 3-0 in the fourth off just three hits, insert the Hunter Bishop, the nation’s home run leader, who dug into the box against Arizona starter Randy Labaut and unloaded on a 1-1 pitch that was torched off the batter’s eye in dead center.
“He’s really, really dialed in right now,” head coach Tracy Smith said. “It’s funny because he got one pitch to hit tonight and he deposited it. I’m just impressed with the maturity and the growth of what he’s been able to do up to this point. He’s certainly playing at another level.”
The bomb was measured at 415 feet to give the junior his 15th round tripper of the season.
The reason Bishop only getting one pitch to hit is due to the fact that he physically did not see too many. The junior was intentionally walked twice in the win with it being the first sign he’s seen of receiving that type of free pass.
“I just kind of go up there expecting to hit,” Bishop said with a slight chuckle. “If they’re going to intentionally walk me I’ll try to help the team score a run or get in scoring position.”
“It probably makes me focus a little more because my at-bats matter more just because I don’t have as many if they intentionally walk me,” he added.
The other foothold for Arizona State was another stellar outing from right-hander Alec Marsh, who was dazzling Wildcat hitters through six innings. In fact, he retired his first nine batters he faced and did not allow a hit through the first 4.2 innings. He was winding together what looked to be his strongest outing of the season.
Two solo blasts from Arizona’s Dayton Dooney in the sixth and Austin Wells in the seventh ended the junior’s night at 6.1 innings, but he once again got his team deep into the ballgame.
“I think it shows that I have a job to do and my job is to go deep into games. I’m probably going to throw 100 pitches every outing,” Marsh said. “Preparing my body for that, that’s my goal. I’m going to be able to go 100-110 pitches and take my team, deep into the game, save our arms in the bullpen.”
After a shaky end to the top of the seventh, where Brady Corrigan pieced together an out to escape a bases loaded jam, the Devils struck again with the bats.
The nation’s reigning home run king Spencer Torkelson came up with two outs and the Devils needing to regain some momentum after a portion of it started to shade over toward the Wildcats side.
He gave his team some.
The sophomore drilled an opposite field solo shot directly down the right field line, hooking it inside the foul pole to put the Sun Devils up 5-2. It marked Torkelson’s fifth home run of the year and the fifth game in five tries where he has homered against the Wildcats.
“I’m kind of just staying through the ball in general and just hitting it where it’s pitched, not yanking off of it,” Torkelson said.
ASU would follow it up with additional two-out hitting, plating three more runs in the inning. Lyle Lin had swinging strikeout, reaching first on a wild pitch. Following that up was Gage Workman with a 2-RBI single in what was part of a game-high three hit night.
“I thought he had one of the biggest hits of the game,” Smith said. “That kind of put it away because it was still a baseball game at that point. But I think once he got that hit everyone felt comfortable that if we just throw strikes we’re going to win this thing.”
What gets lost in the shadows of this showdown is Arizona is the conference’s second strongest offense, averaging over nine runs per game through their first 24 contests. But the pitching of Marsh proved to be too much for them.
“With how many lefties they had, the game plan going in was mixing pitches, using the changeup a lot more tonight. But for me just getting ahead and throwing those [off-speed] pitches at 0-0 counts was really important,” Marsh said.
The Sun Devils will be back at Muni on Saturday night for game two of the Arizona series with Boyd Vander Kooi expected to take the hill. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.