In Division I baseball, there are usually very few question marks when it comes to Friday night pitching. Just three weeks into the season, a flurry of injuries have ensured Arizona State head coach Tracy Smith that he will have no such luxury.
While most teams across the country rolled out their aces for the final non-conference series opener of the year, Smith sewed a patchwork quilt of pitchers, pushing all the right buttons in a 10-0 victory over Cal State Fullerton Friday night at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. It’s their seventh straight win.
“It’s something we’re going to have to do this year,” Smith said. “It’s not the conventional way to do it but guys were pitching aggressively and throwing strikes tonight. We’re obviously short on pitching but we feel like we have quality guys and if everybody does their job, we’ll be alright.”
Smith went with freshman Seth Tomczak to begin the evening, while the Titans sent their horse Tanner Bibee to the mound. Both hurlers were on cruise control through the first two innings, with Fullerton logging the only two base hits.
Smith made his plan for the night clear when he strolled to the mound with two outs in the third. The skipper called on sophomore Will Levine for the early relief appearance. The move proved to be a wise one, as Levine delivered his best outing of the year.
He set the tone for the rest of his bullpen brigade, as Brady Corrigan, Brock Peery, Dom Cacchione and Alexander Ogg combined to finish off the shutout.
“It was conveyed to me before the game that I was only going to go two or three innings,” Tomczak said. “I think we have a lot of elite arms out there in the bullpen. It didn’t surprise me at all that we were able to throw a combined shutout.”
In the third inning, Bibee showed signs of mortality, as the Titans ace issued two walks and allowed a single to start the frame. With the bases loaded and nobody out, freshman Hunter Haas chopped a bouncer up the middle.
The weak contact was enough to get the job done, as senior Sam Ferri was able to score on the fielder’s choice. Just two pitches later, Bibee bounced a fastball that squirted away from the plate, allowing Drew Swift to scamper home for ASU’s second run of the frame.
The Sun Devils struck again in the fourth when Kai Murphy laced a single off Bibee’s foot with one out. The ball caromed violently and trickled into shallow right.
Murphy was quick to take advantage, hustling into second base on the play. Just two pitches later, junior Allbry Major laced a single up the middle, scoring Murphy easily.
“We were glad to get the first few runs across because he (Bibee) hasn’t given up many,” Smith said.
Although many of ASU’s runs have come from situational hitting and baserunning this season, Hunter Jump, Sean McClain and Major each showed that the 2021 Sun Devils can still play long ball.
In the bottom of the fifth, Jump blasted his first home run of the season into the ASU bullpen in right field. The two run shot scored Drew Swift, who singled up the middle to start the inning.
Two batters later, redshirt freshman Sean McLain was eager to upstage his teammate. He turned on a first pitch fastball and sent it deep into the night, clearing the berm beyond left field.
By the time his moonshot landed, McClain’s bat still hadn’t. The home runs, as well as the bat flips, seemed to be contagious Friday, as Major showcased his own flip when he hammered a monster blast over the home bullpen in the bottom of the seventh.
“We kind of joke about bat flipping in practice and pregame,” Major said. “Once we get out there though, it kind of just happens. I was excited when that ball left the bat. I knew it had the air. I’ve been working on a lot of things in the cage with our coaches, and hopefully that was the first of many.”
Smith was quick to praise the transfer, whose offensive resurgence is welcomed by a power-starved lineup.
“It’s good for us and it’s good for him to see him breaking out of that,” Smith said of Major, who had struggled during the season’s first 10 games. “He can change a game with one swing of the bat, and he had a great offseason for us. He’s been a bit slow out of the gate but we saw tonight what he’s capable of.”
Despite dealing with more than a season’s worth of bad injury news in the span of 10 days, ASU has done nothing but find ways to win during this young season.
Their resilience will be tested twice more before conference play begins, with two more games against Fullerton scheduled for Saturday and Sunday.
“Baseball has a really good way of humbling you when you start to feel good about yourself,” Smith said. “I think we’ll know what our ceiling is come May, but for now we’re taking it game by game.”