It’s Ethan Long’s world. We’re all just living in it.
To say the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week stayed hot in Friday’s series-opening win against Rhode Island (17-17-1) would be an understatement. He blasted two more home runs, hit a double and had a sac-fly to lead Arizona State (23-14) to a 9-6 win at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.
Over his last five games, Long has belted six home runs and is hitting better than .500 over that stretch.
“I try to keep a level head, never get too high or too low,” Long said. “It’s a competition with me and the pitcher, and I never want the pitcher to win. I try to make adjustments every at-bat, and I was able to get the best of them in those two at-bats.”
After striking out in his first plate appearance, Long led off the bottom of the third with a bang. He drove a 1-0 fastball to right center, just barely clearing the wall in the deepest part of the yard.
Just one inning later, he took on the opposite field again, this time depositing his sixth homer in five games into the ASU bullpen in right field.
“It’s just clicking for him right now,” said ASU coach Tracy Smith about Long. “That happens with young guys, and this game is all about adjustments and getting used to college pitching. He’s seeing the baseball much better, and that combined with his strength and bat speed has produced something really special.”
Hunter Jump has seen his share of super human home run efforts during his time at ASU, as he spent multiple years as teammates with Spencer Torkelson and Hunter Bishop.
What Long has been doing to baseballs over the last week reminds Jump of what he saw from those former first-round picks.
“It is really similar, especially when you consider the opposite field power Ethan’s been showing,” Jump said. “It’s fun to see, especially for another teammate to go on a run like this.”
Aside from Long, Brock Peery got the starting nod on the mound for ASU, and the freshman had a forgettable outing. In his only inning of work, he gave up three singles, walked one, and hit a Ram with a pitch.
Rhode Island’s two runs in the frame were both earned. Smith tabbed Brady Corrigan to take over. The reliable junior right-hander quelled the Rams offensive attack, retiring the side in order.
“It was huge to keep them to two in that first inning,” Smith said. “We have to be sharp on every pitch.”
Smith managed the bullpen in reverse Friday, as he went to usual starter Tyler Thornton in the third inning. Thornton took kindly to the switch up, tossing a dominant 6.2 innings in relief to close the game.
The junior struck out eight and walked just one without surrendering a run, until Rhode Island mounted a rally with two outs in the ninth. A three-run blast from Xavier Vargas made it 9-5, before a solo shot from Billy Butler made it a three-run game.
When Thornton did record the final out, it came with controversy. Rhode Island left fielder Calvin McCall was hit by a pitch, but was called out at the plate for leaning into it.
“The plan was that Tyler was going in the third,” Smith said. “We challenged him to give us seven and he did it. Even though he wore it a bit in that ninth inning, the bigger picture is that he saved our pen. Tyler was great tonight.”
Thornton was given two days notice of the unique role he’d be playing Friday night, but his preparation was still different given the circumstances.
“They told me I’d be coming out of the pen in the third inning a couple days ago,” Thornton said. “I tried to keep my routine the same, but it had to be pushed back about an hour.”
Both of freshman Hunter Haas, who doubled in a run in the fifth, and Jump, who logged two hits and drove in a run of his own, had quality offensive nights.
The Sun Devil bats totaled 11 hits, with Long accounting for three of the team’s four extra base knocks.
Although they haven’t faced a premiere arm during their hot stretch at the plate, ASU’s gaudy offensive numbers of late show Smith that the team is continuing to mature.
“Hitting is contagious, and the guys are gravitating towards that,” Smith said. “Our guys will make adjustments and continue to battle, I can promise you that.”
Game two of the series is set for Saturday evening at 6:35 p.m. local time, as ASU will look to claim the non-conference series with another victory.