It was another day and another blowout victory for No. 8 Arizona State (8-3) over Nebraska (1-7), as the Sun Devils scored a run in every inning from the fourth inning on to skip past the Cornhuskers 14-1.
In two games thus far, ASU is outscoring its road adversary 27-6, and they mustered 14 hits in game two to barrel past Nebraska.
Since falling to Oklahoma State 2-1 on Feb. 18, ASU’s players noted that the bats have started to turn around compared to the early-season struggles, and that’s not by accident.
“The Monday before Oklahoma State, it was kind of like a business day (at practice),” said junior second baseman Drew Swift, who racked up three more hits on Saturday after setting a career-high with four on Friday. “We put our heads down and went to work that day and that was kind of when it started clicking for the majority of us...it’s a good thing.”
Despite the eventual outburst, the Sun Devil bats were quiet through the first three frames, and Nebraska led 1-0 thanks to a solo blast from junior outfielder Aaron Palensky.
The Sun Devils had a response in the fourth, though, as junior outfielder Trevor Hauver launched a solo homer over the right center field wall, and then sophomore Erik Tolman lifted a sacrifice fly to give the home team the lead.
The fourth was a start, but similar to what they did with a big inning the night prior, the fifth is when the runs started to pile up. And the biggest at-bat of the night went to no other than junior outfielder Hunter Jump.
With the bases loaded and in a 3-1 count, Jump sent a drive into the right center gap, plating three runs and breaking the game open. From there, the team would never look back, and they put up at least a run in every inning.
“We need him to give us those quality at-bats in the middle of the order,” said coach Tracy Smith of Jump’s efforts and clutch hit. “The kid can hit and that’s why he’s in the lineup. That’s why we welcomed him with open arms is because he’s proven he’s a good hitter at this level. It was good to see him get going.”
Jump finished going 2-4, and he was also backed up by Swift’s three hits. Additionally, Hauver and junior phenom Spencer Torkelson combined to go just 1-3 in the heart of the order because they were both issued three walks.
Avoiding the sluggers at all costs was one strategy to have, but the rest of the lineup was able to pick them up with timely hits like Jump’s in the fifth.
“I’d say everyone is just looking for their pitch and not trying to do too much,” Jump said. “Just put the ball in play and we’ll go.”
Hauver, who continues to be a key cog hitting behind Torkelson, expanded on that fact and how he’s being pitched this season.
“I feel like in the beginning of the season, I was struggling and I felt like every time they were doing it (walking Torkelson), I’d get worked up and try to do too much,” Hauver said. “Now, I know what’s going to happen sometimes so I feel like when I am going up, I am more comfortable and more relaxed at the plate.”
Speaking of hitting in front of Torkelson, too, the power-hitting first baseman is receiving more of the Barry Bonds treatment, as he was intentionally walked two more times on Saturday to bring his counter up to 13.
As for the pitching, sophomore starter Tyler Thornton weaved together yet another consistent quality start, hurling six innings and striking out eight in 98 total pitches.
Another plus was junior pitcher Boyd Vander Kooi, who came on in relief to deliver two scoreless innings, and he struck out two in the process on just 16 pitches.
“It’s awesome being able to go out there and not having to worry about the guys coming in after me,” said Thornton of being backed up by Vander Kooi. “I know they are going to do a good job and we are going to get a lot of runs. It’s great.”
Smith mentioned that Vander Kooi, who has been primarily a starter in his first couple seasons with the program, won’t just be labeled as a bullpen arm this season as well. Rather, he will fill in wherever is seen fit, and he is a nice option to have in a midweek start.
Specifically, he hinted that it will be more than likely to see him on the bump when ASU goes on the road for the first time for a two-game series against Cal State Fullerton this upcoming Tuesday and Wednesday.
Altogether, ASU had things in cruise control for a second straight night. The starting pitching gave a quality effort, and it was backed by the bats. After dropping a series last year in Lincoln, the Sun Devils were able to return the favor.
Now though, it’s a matter of finishing the job tomorrow afternoon.
“It’s not the score. It’s not your opponent. You are playing yourself every night,” Smith said. “I think our guys are a pretty mature club and they did a good job of that tonight. Now we’ll see if we can take one more step and put this one away and realize the score is 0-0 tomorrow...We will take nothing for granted.”