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ASU Baseball: Strong pitching, stellar defense lead ASU to victory over Utah

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Richard Martinez/ House of Sparky

As the ball jumped off Jayden Kieran’s bat, it looked as though Utah would take the lead on a bases-clearing double.

Arizona State’s Joe Lampe had other plans. Lampe raced over from his centerfield perch, left his feet, and made a spectacular inning-ending grab to preserve the two-run lead in the seventh inning.

It was the crown jewel of a complete game victory from ASU (7-2), as the Sun Devils took down Utah (1-7) 4-1 Saturday at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

“That was a great play. It was a huge momentum changer and took the wind out of the sails in the other dugout,” Smith said. “That play is a result of preparation, our coaches doing a great job positioning those guys before each pitch.”

After the news that Cooper Benson and Boyd Vander Kooi were out for the remainder of the year earlier this week, Smith needs to have a number of starting pitching performances like the one they got from Erik Tolman on Saturday.

The sophomore was nails in his five innings of work, striking out five Utes while allowing just four singles. Tolman, who nearly halved his ERA with his superb outing, will be able to get more high-profile starts all year long due to the suddenly depleted pitching staff.

“Erik did a great job today. He threw really well,” shortstop Drew Swift said. “He was coming off not the best outing last week and he was able to deliver today.”

Offensively, redshirt freshman Sean McClain started the scoring in the home half of the second. He sent a high-arching fly ball down the left field line.

Initially, it looked as though Utah’s left fielder would settle under it near the warning track, but on a balmy spring day in Tempe, a gentle breeze moving from right to left field carried the ball just over the wall. It was McClain’s first blast of the year, and first of his collegiate career.

“He hung a curveball earlier in the at-bat and I pulled it foul,” McClain said. “He came back with it and I was able to put a good swing on it and get it out of here. I did think it was gone, I had one last week that I thought was gone but it wasn’t so I’m glad this one got out.”

ASU’s bats remained dormant until the bottom of the sixth, when it utilized its tried and true small ball approach in order to push across its third run.

Following singles from Ethan Long and Brian Kalmer to start the inning, Sean McClain advanced both runners by a swinging bunt.

Smith tabbed Blake Pivaroff to pinch hit following a Kai Murphy strikeout, and Pivaroff continued his perfect 4-4 start to the season with an RBI single into the six hole. If not for a diving stop by Utah’s Matt Richardson, the sharp ground ball would have scored a pair.

“We’re a deep team,” McClain said. “I think that showed today. We had a bunch of guys get in the game and Blake is 4-4 on pinch hits this year. Everyone on that bench can play.”

The Sun Devils tacked on one more run in the bottom of the seventh, when freshman Hunter Haas and junior Hunter Jump gapped back-to-back doubles.

Bullpen issues began to rear its ugly head in the seventh, however. Graham Ossman was lifted after walking the only two batters he faced. Christian Bodlovich then came in and induced the dramatic fly out that ended the frame.

“If you want to toe the rubber for us, you have to throw strikes,” Smith said. “We’ve got plenty of guys competing for limited innings, and throwing strikes is obviously a priority.”

Bodlovich worked out of trouble in a scoreless eighth and proceeded to slam the door without drama in the top of the ninth for his first save of the year.

“We all have our roles and we know that our job is to go out there and compete and throw strikes,” Bodlovich said. “It’s obviously tough losing Cooper and Boyd, but I try to keep my mentality the same at all times.”

ASU is back at it tomorrow for the series finale against the Utes. First pitch is scheduled for 12 p.m. at Phoenix Muni.