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ASU Baseball: Sun Devils pick up first Friday win riding their bullpen

“Good baseball”

Richard Martinez/ House of Sparky

Arizona State’s (6-2) bullpen and late-game hitting helped put them over the top in their 4-3 victory over Utah (1-6) in the first of their three-game series this weekend.

Coming into Friday night, Tyler Thornton made it through at least the fifth inning in all six of his starts for the Sun Devils. That stat changed against Utah when the sophomore threw 91 pitches in four innings, forcing an early exit.

“I loved (Thornton’s) competitiveness,” head coach Tracy Smith said. Smith cited that Thornton did not necessarily have a “good night” pitching because of his pitch count and loss of command around the plate

Besides giving up a two-run homer to Trey Clarkson in the top of the third, Thornton was still somewhat dominant. He finished his outing with eight strikeouts, three walks, two hit batters and four hits.

The Sun Devils rode that momentum into the bottom half of the inning, when Hunter Haas and Hunter Jump led off with back-to-back singles. They moved around the bases, and then a sacrifice fly from Nate Baez and a groundout off the bat of Sam Ferri brought both runners in.

Tracy Smith has acknowledged all year that the Sun Devils would have to score with “timely hits” and “situational hitting.” Arizona State did that to manufactures runs in the fourth inning, but with the game tied at two going into the bottom of the seventh they needed more.

A lead-off double by Kai Murphy set the stage for Blake Pivaroff to play hero.

“I knew coming up with the guy on third they were going to bring the infield in,” Pivaroff said. “I was expecting a breaking ball, sat on it early and was able to elevate it.”

Pivaroff’s RBI single gave the Sun Devils their first lead of the game and Arizona State did not turn back from there. ASU was able to get Seth Nagar, who was pinch-running for Pivaroff, to cross the plate on an error by the third baseman later that inning.

“Our pen is nasty,” outfielder Kai Murphy said of the late-inning takeover. “Once we get a lead late, it’s tough to get us.”

Murphy was right. Despite the early exit from Thornton, the Sun Devil bullpen struck out five Utes and only surrendered one run in the final five innings of action. At the anchor of all that, was Ethan Long, who threw 1.2 innings and picked up his third save of the early season.

“We have so many good arms in this bullpen that we can go to anyone at any time,” Long said. “If they chose me, I’m ready to go.”

The highlight of Long’s night was when he escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the eighth inning, energizing the limited fan attendance at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

“Ethan is one of our most competitive individuals, regardless of age,” Smith said of the freshman.

It will be interesting to see how Smith and company monitor their pitchers, especially with the recent losses of Cooper Benson and Boyd Vander Kooi. The next game of this series, that is counting towards both teams’ non-conference records, will be on Saturday afternoon at 2:05 p.m. local time.