If past wounds were unhealed from ASU’s last encounter with UNLV (23-19), they could not be exposed at any time in a 9-2 midweek series win for the Devils (31-8).
Last time it all came crashing down so quickly. One inning filled with walks and errant command on the hill led the Rebels to a six-run come from behind victory in Las Vegas. Head coach Tracy Smith still refers to it as “one of the craziest things” he’s ever seen.
But a group of maturing, talented Sun Devils refused to allow such a collapse to occur again, surrendering just five hits on the defensive side of the ball while committing no errors.
“We played a good, clean baseball game,” Alika Williams said.
The players admitted there was a little extra motivation coming to the ballpark Tuesday night, using the feeling of the knot in their stomach from two weeks prior as fuel to deny the Rebels from getting the best of them again.
“We didn’t forget that feeling we had after that [first UNLV] game,” Williams said. “We kind of took that with us into this game.”
Smith, however, did not view it that way.
“Our battle cry was not ‘hey let’s stick it to these guys because we lost’ because it wasn’t,” he said. “It was a midweek game that was very important in the overall big picture, so that’s what our focus was.”
At the plate, the Pac-12’s flashiest long-ball hitting team displayed just that. Three home runs put the maroon and gold on the right foot in the early going and kept them balanced on the balls of their two feet as the contest progressed with needed insurance.
Erik Tolman continued to impress with the bat and prove he’s a gritty two-way player as he launched his third home run of the year in the bottom of the second inning. All three of his home runs have come in the last week, rifling two in the Seattle U game.
“When I’m on the mound I’m more locked in,” Tolman said. “And then when I’m hitting, I just try to smile. Because I know hitting can be one of the most stressful things in any sport.”
Gage Workman and Spencer Torkelson added on late, each depositing tape-measure blasts of 445 feet and 430 feet, respectively, to put the nail on the coffin.
“3-2 pitch I was looking to go the other way,” Workman said. “[UNLV reliever Trent Bixby] wasn’t throwing real hard, so I was kind of giving up the inner half of the plate, but he came in and I just pulled my hands in, tried to get the barrel to the ball.”
“450?” added Workman with a laugh when told the distance of his home run (take five feet). “Yeah, that’s probably [my longest one ever].”
To complete the “clean baseball game” trifecta, the pitching was crisp and dialed in. The collapse of two weeks ago featured 12 walks allowed from ASU pitching. Tuesday? Just one.
“We trust those guys,” Smith said. “And it was the same guys that were a part of that thing. “Came in tonight and did exceptionally well.”
After 4.1 quality frames from Tolman, the core four pieces of the bullpen did not skip a beat. In fact, they only bettered what the freshman had started.
Blake Burzell escaped a jam that Tolman left for him in the fifth. He was assisted by a Workman double play on a leaping grab, followed by doubling off UNLV’s Bryson Stott between first and second. The sixth inning was more of the same, except the next jam being his own doing. But Burzell held his own, inducing soft contact on a pop-up to end the inning and his night.
“Every time he’s growing up more,” Smith said of Burzell. “That was big for him tonight, he came up big for us in Utah too, so it’s nice to see him put it together back-to-back. He’s getting better and better each time out.”
Brady Corrigan, Chaz, Montoya and Sam Romero combined to toss the final three innings, sending nine Rebels down in as many tries. The latter two were the culprits of the ninth inning meltdown in Vegas, but they too showed that one occurrence didn’t faze them.
ASU will head up to Seattle this weekend for a three-game set with the Washington Huskies, who they have dropped their last two series against. First pitch Friday is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.