Following Thursday night’s 14-12 slugfest, Arizona State took a little longer to truly break out the bats on Friday. But once the floodgates opened, USC could do little to stop the maroon and gold flood as the Sun Devils (17-19) paid homage to program legend Dustin Pedroia and his novelty bobblehead with a 6-2 victory over the Trojans (18-14).
After a questionable ejection and five earned runs in less than two innings last week against Stanford, Kyle Luckham returned to the mound with a vengeance against the Trojans. The right-hander punched out seven batters with an even 100 pitches to secure his fifth win of the campaign.
“I always try to find a way to win, not too worried about all those other things,” said Luckham following his bounce-back victory.
Pitches— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) April 16, 2022
1️⃣ Battle against the Trojans pic.twitter.com/6l6moCZ05P
Bending but not breaking appeared to be the strategy for Luckham. Although he allowed nine base hits, just two Trojan runs crossed, a major improvement from his miserable day at the Sunken Diamond last week.
“I didn’t like sitting in that hotel last weekend,” said Luckham, in reference to his ejection at Stanford. “Whether I have my best or worst stuff, the team knows they’re always gonna get 44’s best effort every time.”
While Luckham starred on the mound, the contributions of this ASU offense cannot be overlooked as the Sun Devils tallied double-digit hits for the fifth straight game. “They’re putting together much better at-bats,” said first-year head coach Willie Bloomquist. “Making the pitcher uncomfortable and getting runners on, it’s why they call it a team offense. The lineup is really starting to lengthen out top to bottom.”
Indeed it is, coach. In their last four games, Arizona State has plated a whopping 53 runners. In Friday’s matchup with USC, only four times did a Sun Devil retreat to the bench via a strikeout, showing the vast improvement in the team’s contact approach at the plate.
The buildup of offense took more time tonight than on Thursday. Great defensive plays by USC and a couple of tough breaks for ASU saw them enter the bottom of the sixth inning clinging to a 3-2 lead, built off a Ryan Campos double in the second and a string of singles by Conor Davis and Jacob Tobias in the fourth.
It may have taken the Sun Devils a couple of innings to start stringing together at-bats, but once they did, the Trojan fell off its horse and couldn’t saddle back up in time to stop the stampede. A Kai Murphy RBI single in the sixth served as a prelude to what would be a late-night fireworks show at Phoenix Municipal stadium.
In their final three offensive innings, the Sun Devils expanded what was a 3-2 lead to an 8-2 advantage behind the big bops of Ethan Long and Kai Murphy who each launched tape measure two-run home runs in the seventh and eighth innings respectively. Here’s what each had to say about their game-sealing blasts.
Long’s clout in the seventh served as a sigh of relief for the struggling star. “I was getting upset, hitting the bottom of the ball,” said Long postgame. “I knew I was gonna get one at some point. I put a good swing on that ball for sure. Lately I’ve been struggling, but been working with the coaching staff on adjustments and it’s good to see everything’s on the right track.”
With Long seemingly back along the rails, the Sun Devil train will look to burst through the Southern California station as ASU will look for the sweep of the Trojans on Saturday at 12:30. Adam Tulloch is set to take the mound with the team closing in on a return to a .500 record mark this season.