As Boyd Vander Kooi delivered his six pitch of the at-bat to UCLA’s Chase Strumpf, it’d be the moment he lost the battle. Strumpf sent the 2-2 pitch to left-center, for a moment it appeared there was a chance Trevor Hauver was going to be able to camp under it near the warning track.
Hauver peered his head up, an indication the home faithful didn’t want to see. The Arizona State left fielder and the rest of the Phoenix Municipal Stadium crowd watched as the ball bounced in front of furthest left wall of honor signs for a grand slam.
Vander Kooi had managed to limit the damage for Arizona State (32-12, 13-10 Pac-12) through three innings, but much like he couldn’t shut the door on Strumpf, the sophomore righty didn’t pull another houdini act in the fourth.
UCLA (37-7, 16-4) produced three one-run innings to start the game in various forms. The crooked number never came for the Bruins until Strmpf’s sixth home run of the season on their way to a 18-3 win.
Even then it seemed as if Vander Kooi was on pace for his first clean inning in the fourth. Two quick outs paved the idea he had settled down, rather it was the beginning of the end.
Bruin catcher Noah Cardenas, who had homered earlier in the game, singled one up the middle off the leg of Vander Kooi. Leadoff hitter Garrett Mitchell followed that with a single to the right side after he fell behind 0-2 to the ASU starter. After he walked Ryan Kreidler to load the bases, Vander Kooi got the upper hand on Strumpf until the theme of the day followed. Strumpf broke things open after he fouled two pitches off.
“(He) took the mound a little tentative for starters,” said head coach Tracy Smith on Vander Kooi. “Even when he settled in and got ahead (of batters), it was just the inability to put guys away.... It was just not making that quality put away when he needed to, as witnessed by the four-run fourth inning.”
Despite the big inning, Vander Kooi returned to the mound in the fifth. He retired the first batter, then Jake Pries sent a line drive that left the field quicker than a blink of the eye. Vander Kooi was the next item to leave the field with a disappointing four-inning, eight-run performance.
Far from the pitching duel of Alec Marsh and Ryan Garcia on Friday, UCLA right-hander Jack Ralston continued their control of the plate. Ralston entered Saturday with a 7-0 record and an ERA of 2.86 maintained his mantra.
Ralston one-upped his teammate Garcia, by shutting out the powerful ASU lineup. Besides a Spencer Torkelson fly ball that nearly left for his 16th long ball on the year, most of ASU’s contact was very weak. Torkelson led off with a double, but the pop up fell between three Bruins in short right field.
With a up-to-down motion, Ralston had a lot of pitches hit in front of the plate. That didn’t stop Sun Devil batters from chasing them, Ralston finished with seven strikeouts after seven innings.
“Our guys were having a real tough time seeing his changeup. Off that unorthodox arm action, he’ll throw off that same arm action,” Smith said. “Trevor Hauver is a real good hitter, but we saw Trevor — that’s about as poor as I’ve seen him at the plate the entire year. He just wasn’t seeing it, and that happens sometimes.”
In the late innings, UCLA added three more blasts. Pries hit another solo shot, Michael Toglia and Jake Hirabayashi had moonshots also go deep for the Bruins in their rout of ASU. By the end, the Bruins had sent out a total of seven home runs in Phoenix.
Sophomore shortstop Alika Williams contributed the only Sun Devil runs with his three-run blast off of UCLA reliever Jack Filby. Outfielder Myles Denson pitched the ninth inning for ASU and was the only pitcher that threw a scoreless frame as UCLA scored in the first eight innings.
“I was disappointed when the game got tilted about how many at-bats we gave away. On a positive piece of it, that to me illustrates why Alika Williams is Alika Williams because it didn’t matter what the score was, that kid was still going to give you quality at-bat,” Smith said.
The Sun Devils will try to avoid the sweep on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. against UCLA.