One of the best parts of baseball is that you can come back to the park the next day to fix your mistakes and try to get a win. That is exactly how Arizona State (16-7, 5-4 Pac-12) put together a 3-2 victory over Arizona (18-8, 5-4).
ASU narrowly avoided being swept for the first time this season behind stellar pitching, solid defense and just enough hitting to get them over the hump.
Two pitchers progressing
Justin Fall is certainly finding his rhythm in this revamped Sun Devil rotation. On Saturday night, it was on full display. Fall went six innings and gave up one run on eight hits while striking out four.
Fall has improved to 4-1 on the year and holds an ERA of 2.06 in games that he has started this season. His pitch counts the last two weeks has reached over 90 (with his season-high 95 pitches coming Saturday).
“I just keep on progressing day in and day out in practice,” Fall said. “We are at the halfway mark, but I feel like (all the pitchers) are hitting their stride together.”
The Sun Devils only used two pitchers in the game. The other was Will Levine, who threw the final three innings, allowing three hits, one run and striking out three.
“You look at some of the injuries we’ve had, he has capitalized and thrived in that role,” head coach Tracy Smith said of Levine’s development. “He, in my opinion, has turned himself into a top-line-type of arm in the Pac-12.”
Levine was interviewed by the Pac-12 Network after the game because of his performance.
“I was a little nervous at first,” Levine said of his TV debut. “Honestly, more nervous than certain situations of the game.”
Turn two, leave them on
Those “certain situations” that Levine alluded to were probably the six runners on the base paths while he was on the mound. In total, the Wildcats left 10 runners on, and were 1-12 (.083) with runners in scoring position.
LEVINE-ING THEM STRANDED— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) April 4, 2021
Wildcats put two on with no outs and the heart of the order coming to bat and @Will_Levine4 enters and gets a big strikeout and this double play to keep the Devils on top.
3-1, as we hit the stretch!
“All weekend I thought (Arizona) did a good job of keeping the pressure on,” Smith said. “It seemed like every time we looked up, there were two guys on base.”
This could be attributed to the three double plays turned by the Sun Devil infield and the philosophy the pitchers reiterate of “attacking the zone and trusting the defense.” Either way, both parties played their role to get the job done.
Just enough offense
The Sun Devils struck first in the bottom of the second. Hunter Jump and Ethan Long led off the inning with a double and walk, respectively. A sacrifice fly by Jack Moss and double by Hunter Haas brought both of them in to give ASU the 2-0 advantage.
From there, ASU had a stretch where all nine batters were set down in order by Arizona pitcher TJ Nichols. Nichols (3-2) went six innings and yielded three runs on three hits while striking out eight.
Arizona State’s offense would not score again until the sixth inning when Sean McLain scored on an RBI single off the bat of Hunter Jump. Jump had three of the team’s five hits (Arizona had 11 hits).
McLain also tallied one hit as well, extending his hitting streak to 21 games. He is now in hot-pursuit of Andre Ethier’s mark of 23 games from back in 2003.
“If you look in the box score, yeah, it’s probably one of those statistical anomalies of how we won the game,” Smith said. “But we won the game because guys made big pitches and we made the plays when we needed to.”
The series with the Wildcats may be over at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, but the teams will square-off one final time on Tuesday night at 6 p.m. local time in Tucson.