Another day, and another overpowering outing from a Sun Devil starter.
After racking up the National Freshman of the Year hardware at Saint Mary’s last season, sophomore Tyler Thornton dazzled in his debut as Arizona State (2-2) took the rubber match 6-4 over Villanova (1-2) on Sunday afternoon.
Thornton kept the Wildcats off balance for the better part of 6.2 innings. In fact, the only hit he gave up was on a Ryan Toohers double to right field in the top of the fourth. Using a quality mix of pitches and effectively changing speeds, he racked up eight strikeouts for the afternoon.
“He did a good job of commanding and giving us the extended five-plus (innings),” coach Tracy Smith said. “I like the fact that he battled back a couple times and missed a lot of barrels and gave us a chance to win.”
“Our approach today was just to go at him with fastballs, throw as many strikes as possible. Good team win right there,” Thornton added.
Thornton does not overpower hitters with fastball velocity, usually sitting in the high-80’s to low-90’s. But his movement and deception on his heater is what makes him so tough to read.
“He’s got a good spin rate,” Smith said. “We watched a lot of film on him last year, he has a tendency, when you have a high spin rate, to miss a lot of barrels. When he’s around the zone he’s got a chance to get a lot of punchouts.”
The right hander did not end up earning the win after freshman Graham Osman allowed a two-run bomb to Villanova shortstop Dylan McNary, knotting the game at four.
However, Sunday marked the fourth of four games over the weekend in which a maroon and gold starter pieced together a quality start. Between Justin Fall in Friday’s win, Boyd Vander Kooi and Cooper Benson on Saturday, followed by Thornton on Sunday, the Devils are watching a menacing rotation formulate before their eyes.
“Not the result that we wanted this weekend in a two and two split record, but if you throw strikes and pitch consistently over time with our offense clicking and the way that I think we are going to play defense too,” Smith said. “I think it puts us in a much better position than we were last year because we’ve got a lot more options.”
Thornton does still have a few things to clean up moving forward. All three of his walks came with two outs in an inning, one preluding the RBI double from Toohers that would jump start Villanova’s four-run comeback to eventually tie the game in the seventh.
“I know that’s something he’s not pleased with,” Smith said. “It’s just locking that other stuff down, the inning is not over with two outs.”
But it’s hard to be perfect in the first outing of the year. And after all, he still only allowed one hit.
The Devils would tack on an additional tally in the seventh and eight innings to complement closer RJ Dabovich nailing the door shut over two innings of work for his second save of the year.
“I felt good out there, adrenaline was a little too high today. But other than that it was good to get out there and help my team get a win,” Dabovich said.
Dabovich covered a wild pitch at the plate in the eighth to tag out McNary, helping preserve the lead. He then went on to strike out two of his next four batters and induce a lineout to second, resulting in a double play.
“Anytime you get an out, any way, it takes the pressure off a little bit, just one less out you have to get by yourself. I trust myself to get one out, punchout or defense behind me, whatever works,” Dabovich said.
The Devils be back in action on Tuesday night at Phoenix Municipal Stadium as they will take on the No. 22 Oklahoma State Cowboys at 6:30 p.m. with sophomore Erik Tolman expected to toe the rubber.