LOS ANGELES, Ca. – The bats that shot the Sun Devils quickly into second place in the Pac-12 and revitalized an Arizona State program longing for excitement this season, failed them once again under the marine layer of the Los Angeles night. Again, the Sun Devil offense went mute in a 2-0 loss.
Losers of their last five games, Arizona State Sun Devils (29-20, 14-11 Pac-12) headed into Saturday night’s game searching for their 30th win in the season to stay afloat in the Pac-12 standings. In a night that featured both starting pitchers going seven innings, it was a late Trojan rally that propelled USC (30-20, 15-11 Pac-12) past the dwindling Sun Devils.
Arizona State sent junior right-handed pitcher Khristian Curtis to the mound, looking to get back to its winning ways after entering a cold spell with two series remaining in the regular season. Curtis would give Willie Bloomqusit the length the Sun Devils thought they needed if it wasn’t for a sensational outing from USC’s sophomore pitcher, Caden Aoki.
The only runs of the game came in the bottom half of the eighth inning with Curtis exiting the game. Junior right-handed pitcher Owen Stevenson came in to keep the Trojan offense silent but surrendered a hit-by-pitch, single and base on balls. This loaded the bases for freshman first baseman Ethan Hedges. Hedges was beamed in the shoulder after Stevenson’s 3-2 offering got away from him. The second Trojan run came across from a four pitch walk to freshman catcher Jacob Galloway. Steveon was able to limit the damage after getting the third out in the inning. Painfully for ASU, both runs came with two outs.
Curtis’ day proved to be much better. Curtis wiggled out of first inning drama after loading the bases with a hit-by-pitch, single and walk which left the Trojans in prime position to capitalize. Curtis induced a ground ball force out at the plate and froze the final out of the inning on a payoff pitch that caught the inside black.
E1 | Big moment early as UCLA loads the bases with one out despite not having a hit.— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) May 14, 2023
Devils get the force at home and then @khristianc5 gets a backwards K to keep USC off the board. pic.twitter.com/CFxc9by3kq
Curtis cruised through the Trojan order without trouble. He managed to keep the USC offense quiet and forced weak contact for non threatening hits. Curtis did not allow an extra base hit all night.
Curtis’ night was capped at 100 pitches after seven strong innings of work. His best start of the year could not have come at a better time as the transfer junior will try and replicate the command and conviction as the postseason approaches.
Curtis only allowed five hits and one walk with five strikeouts through 100 pitches.
Everybody freeze @khristianc5 with his third inning-ending looking strikeout.— Sun Devil Baseball (@ASU_Baseball) May 14, 2023
Pitcher's duel here at Dedeaux Field. pic.twitter.com/Sx0I6EId9R
His pitching performance would have been the dominating force in the game, however Aoki was exceptionally sharp in commanding the ASU offense.
Aoki faced virtually no stress and breezed by innings, allowing for him to go deep in the game and kept his pitch count in a comfortable range for first-year Trojan head coach Andy Stankiewicz.
Aoki faced 26 total hitters and allowed only three hits in utter dominance. The Sun Devils managed to advance into scoring position only two times in eight innings of work. Aoki’s ability to keep ASU hitters off balance with his change up and speed bats up with his fastball resulted in routine plays all night at Dedeaux Field.
Aoki capped his stellar performance zero runs, zero walks and two strikeouts through 95 pitches. Just about as effective as a pitcher can be.
The Sun Devils bats fell cold in a 4-1 loss to USC Friday night, only managing three hits and two runners in scoring position all game and again, the Devils’ offense couldn’t manufacture runs in two straight games on the road. With the loss, ASU drops three spots to fifth in the suddenly tight Pac-12 standings.
Arizona State will play at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, May 14 and try to win one game in the USC series to avoid a second straight Pac-12 series sweep.