Arizona State used an impressive combination of offensive power, defensive gems, and situational hitting en route to a pair of big victories in Saturday’s doubleheader at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
The Sun Devils topped Hawaii 6-5 and 9-6 to take two out of three from the Warriors, bringing their record to 4-2 through the season’s first two weekends.
The signature moment of the matinee didn’t come until the home half of the 8th inning, but it was well worth the wait. With two outs and a man on third, freshman Hunter Haas hammered a 2-0 fastball off the center field wall.
A fortuitous ASU bounce sent the ball hopping away from the Hawaii center fielder, and Haas kicked it into high gear.
Third base coach Ben Greenspan gave the freshman the wave home as the relay throw reached the infield, and it was off to the races.
An acrobatic slide at the plate made an in-time throw moot, and the ASU dugout erupted as the home plate umpire emphatically signaled safe.
“I was hoping he (Ben Greenspan) would give me the wave,” Haas said with a grin. “I was probably like nine-years-old the last time I hit an inside the parker so it was really cool to get it done in that spot.”
The inside the park homer was the knockout blow in a game defined by small ball and manufacturing runs for ASU. The Sun Devils scored via sacrifice flies and fielder’s choices, pleasing their head coach who has preached the necessity of situational hitting for weeks.
“I thought our situational hitting was really good today in both games. I thought our guys did a really good job of creating runs through productive outs,” head coach Tracy Smith said. “Everybody did their job.”
After ASU redshirt sophomore pitcher Tyler Thornton tossed a scoreless first inning, the Sun Devils scored first in game one when Drew Swift raced home on a wild pitch in the bottom half.
The Hawaii bats wouldn’t wait long to respond in the following frame. Following a leadoff walk, freshman Konnor Palmeiro belted a Thornton fastball into the visitor’s bullpen to give the Warriors the early 2-1 advantage.
It would be the only time a Warrior would leave the yard all day.
The teams traded a run a piece until in the bottom of the sixth, when ASU jumped at the chance to get into the Hawaii bullpen. Freshmen Jack Moss and Sean McClain reached base to start the frame with a walk and a single respectively.
Following a sacrifice bunt from catcher Nick Cheema, sophomore Joe Lampe lofted a sacrifice fly to deep center to tie the game. With two down, Drew Swift laced a single into left field to plate McClain and put the Sun Devils back in front.
Once again, the small ball game was in effect.
“We’re going to be a team that gets a guy on, gets him over and gets him in,” McClain said. “That’s what we have to do to win games this year.”
Redshirt freshman Cam Dennie, who took over for Thornton in the sixth, encountered trouble in the seventh. Three Warrior singles loaded the bases, forcing Smith to summon redshirt junior Justin Fall from the Sun Devil bullpen.
Fall immediately struggled to find the zone, issuing a four pitch walk to tie the game. A 5-2 force out followed by a swinging strikeout kept Hawaii from jumping back on top. The game would remain tied until Haas’ eighth inning heroics put the Sun Devils up for good.
“That clearly was a big hit,” Smith said of Haas’ unconventional homer. “I felt like it had a sort of calming effect on our whole lineup and allowed guys to relax at the plate. It was huge.”
Following a Hawaii leadoff double to start the ninth, Smith tabbed freshman Ethan Long to come in and lock down the two run lead. Although Long allowed the first run to score, he was able to shut the door and give ASU the much needed game one victory.
“Guys like Ethan are so competitive. They always want the ball,” Smith said. “You can go to sleep at night knowing that if he loses, it won’t be because of fear.”
While the inside the park home run is certainly exciting, the Sun Devils elected to go with the more traditional home run strategy in the night cap.
Sophomore Joe Lampe and redshirt junior Drew Swift went back-to-back in the second inning, with Lampe’s shot sneaking inside the right field foul pole for his first of the season and first at the Division 1 level.
Swift was inspired, and took a 1-0 pitch and launched it over the bullpen in left field before most of the ASU dugout had turned its attention back to the field.
“I felt like our offense was finally coming together after today,” Haas said. “Those back-to-back shots from Lampe and Swift felt great.”
The blasts provided what seemed at the time to be ample run support for ASU starting pitcher sophomore Erik Tolman.
Tolman looked as good as he has in an ASU uniform through three innings, and if three inning games were the reality, he would have thrown an absolute gem.
Unfortunately for Tolman though, the fourth inning brought none of the same success. A flurry of singles, coupled with costly walks, gave the Warrior dugout life, and ended Tolman’s evening.
He was relieved by freshman Brock Peery, who also struggled mightily to find the strike zone. Peery walked both batters he faced, forcing in the tying and go-ahead runs and forcing Smith to go back to the pen.
“I’m not really concerned about guys losing the zone going forward,” Smith said. “Erik is one of the best pitchers in the country and he will bounce back. With Brock, we’re still confident in him. He did a great job in a high leverage situation last weekend, and we won’t hesitate to bring Brock Peery back into the game.”
Jared Glenn, another freshman, was able to escape the jam with a pair of looking strikeouts, but the damage was done.
With the night game tied 6-6 in the home half of the 7th, the Sun Devil offense went station to station, taking a 9-6 lead with a flurry of bloop singles and sacrifice flies.
A game that at one point looked as if Hawaii could take control was now firmly in the grasp of the home team.
“I loved our mentality at the plate tonight overall,” Smith said. “We still have room for improvement because we let some at-bats get away, but I definitely think we got better in the situational stuff today,” he reiterated.
Redshirt junior Brady Corrigan was flawless in a two inning outing to close the rest of the game out. He spoke on the resilience his team has, and how wins like this showcase that trait.