Adam Tulloch threw seven strong innings in another superb outing for the Sun Devils ace and Ethan Long broke the game open with a seventh-inning grand slam as ASU got back on track with an 8-5 win over the University of San Francisco to open a four-game weekend homestand on Friday.
With the Sun Devils clinging to a 4-3 lead, Long strolled up to the plate after USF reliever Kai Burdick had walked the bases loaded. The sophomore third baseman battled back from two early strikes to work the count full, then crushed the eighth pitch of the at-bat over the left-field fence, igniting a sold-out crowd of 6,207 at Phoenix Municipal Stadium as Long flipped his bat and admired his blast.
“It was nice to grind out that at-bat,” Long said. “We’ve kind of struggled with two-strike counts, especially myself. So working on that a lot and having it come out like that, it was really exciting.”
It capped off a five-RBI night for Long, who has caught fire recently after a difficult start to the season. Long is batting .571 over his last five games even while navigating back and rib injuries. He also had a go-ahead RBI triple off the right-field wall in the sixth, missing an opposite-field home run by inches.
“I’ll be the first one to say I haven’t been executing my job so far this year,” Long said. “Tonight, having runners on base and scoring, I’m doing my job. That’s what I was most happy about.”
Long’s recent hot stretch has rewarded the confidence that head coach Willie Bloomquist placed in him during his early-season struggles.
“[With] those guys, it’s a matter of time,” Bloomquist said. “It’s not if, it’s when they’re going to start finding their swings and get hot.”
Tulloch was mostly dominant in his second consecutive seven-inning start, striking out a season-high 13 while walking none over 91 pitches. He opened the game by retiring the first six batters he faced—five of them via the strikeout.
Despite the eye-popping stat line, Tulloch and Bloomquist both said after the game that the lefthander was not working with his sharpest pitches after dealing with fatigue after a six-hour bus ride back to Tempe from a Southern California road trip on Thursday.
Still, the redshirt junior’s command of his fastball allowed him to get early strikes on batters and finish with the most punchouts by an ASU starter since 2010.
“If you get ahead in the count, you can do a lot of things,” Tulloch said. “You can throw a lot of different pitches in a lot of different counts and it starts with fastball command. I felt like I was selling it pretty good tonight.”
But when USF made contact against Tulloch, they hit the ball hard. Kyle Knell and Michael Campagna led off the third inning with back-to-back doubles off the outfield wall for the first run of the game, and Campagna later scored on a double from Mario Demera to give the Dons a 2-0 lead, but Tulloch was able to limit the damage from there.
“The biggest thing for Tully is to just limit the damage when it starts happening, or if it does happen against him,” Bloomquist said. “He’s been doing a much better job of keeping [those] innings small and not letting things speed up on him.”
The Sun Devils struck back in the bottom of the third with a home run from Joe Lampe then to cut the deficit in half, then took the lead in the fifth when Nate Baez scored on an RBI groundout and Will Rogers came home on a wild pitch. But USF tied the game right back up in the sixth when Luke Keaschall doubled and eventually scored on a wild pitch from Tulloch.
The redshirt junior lefthander settled down from there, however. Tulloch retired the next five batters he faced in order, which included striking out the side in the seventh. Even though Tulloch had thrown over 90 pitches, Bloomquist said he would have sent his starter back out in the eighth to face USF leadoff hitter Jordan Vujovich if Long’s slam had not given the Sun Devils some much-needed insurance runs.
“We’ve been looking for that big hit,” Bloomquist said, “Kind of a knockout blow, if you will, late in the game. We’ve had plenty of opportunities almost in every game to do that and we just haven’t come through until then. So that was big for not only him, but for us as a team.”
It wound up being the game-winning hit when reliever Jared Glenn allowed a two-run double to Vujovich in the top of the ninth, bringing the Dons to within three. But Demera flied out to end the threat and snap ASU’s three-game losing streak and five-game home losing streak.
The Sun Devils and Dons will resume the series on Saturday, with first pitch scheduled for 6 p.m. MT.