(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
The Arizona State Sun Devils baseball team left Berkeley’s Evans Diamond on Sunday with their head coach in the belief that his team was quitting early on and lacking the competitiveness needed to win. Having lost eight of their last 11 games, the Devils returned to Phoenix Municipal Stadium in desperate need of a win. A three-hit game from Jeremy McCuin and hitless outing out of the bullpen from Eder Erives proved to be exactly what they needed, as ASU went on to defeat the UNLV Rebels 5-3 on Tuesday evening.
In their weekend in Berkeley, ASU allowed 13 runs in the first three innings of their three games against the Golden Bears, which sent them into their midweek contest against UNLV with a strong desire to score first.
With Friday night starter Eli Lingos on the mound, the Sun Devils gave their starter run support early, scoring four runs in the first two innings of the game, giving them a momentum that prevented the team from quitting like their head coach thought they had over the weekend.
“We actually had a lead today. And psychologically, our guys have been beaten up because we’ve been down I think darn near every game, past 10 games by the fourth or fifth inning,” head coach Tracy Smith noted after the win. “I think what changed tonight was we jumped out and got a lead. That’s a fact, I think it changed our mentality.”
After scoring a run in the first, the bottom of the second proved to be the big inning for ASU, as Tyler Williams led off with his team-leading fifth home run on the first pitch, jump starting an inning that saw the Sun Devils score three runs.
Eight different players recorded a hit in the game, with Tyler Williams and Zach Cerbo each notching two hits for themselves. Jeremy McCuin saw his best offensive game of the season at the plate against UNLV on Tuesday, as he went 3-4 in the team’s winning effort.
“It was fun, it feels really good because this weekend didn’t go my way at the plate,” McCuin admitted. “Skip’s been talking to me about keeping my hands back because I tend to drift at the plate a lot… I think today, that helped me a lot because I was shooting balls the other way.”
Not only did ASU’s third baseman have a productive day at the plate, but first baseman Lyle Lin did as well. The Taiwanese-born freshman recorded his 41st hit of the season, which ties him for sixth in the Pac-12 in that category.
“He’s just a good hitter. He does a real good job of keeping his hands back, takes what the pitcher gives him,” Smith said of Lin. “If you compete in the batter’s box, you’re going to find a way to help your team win. I think he does that really really well… You keep forgetting he’s a freshman and as he matures and understands, I think the power will even come more.”
While the offense got out to an early jump, they slowed down in the later innings, as the team mustered only four hits in their final four innings, compared to eight from the first four.
In his outing last Friday against the California Golden Bears, Eli Lingos lasted only two-thirds of an inning, giving up two runs on four hits, but having one of the team’s best pitchers allowed Smith to send him out to pitch against UNLV and try to break their losing streak and send the team in a different direction.
“Eli tried to battle though the flu last weekend,” Smith mentioned after the game. “Wasn’t able to do that, so we took him out immediately and the idea was our best pitcher, one of our best pitchers is ready to go. Let’s try to go get the win, we’ll worry about the weekend on the weekend.”
After Eli Lingos pitched into the sixth inning, giving up three runs on seven hits, Smith called upon Eder Erives to pitch the Sun Devils to victory and Erives did just that, as the senior went the rest of the way, throwing 3 and 2/3 hitless and scoreless innings, striking out seven UNLV batters, including five of his last seven.
“I thought he was certainly the key to the game for us tonight,” Smith said.
After being one of the program’s most reliable pitchers in 2016, Erives struggled to begin 2017, hampered by an injury, as he came into the game with a 4.58 ERA and as many walks as strikeouts, 14 of each.
“The biggest thing I saw is that we won this game tonight, but I don’t think this one win cures everything we’re going though,” Smith explained. “It beats losing. But we can’t just say okay we won a game and now revert back. To me, it’s about the process and how you go about it.”
With Erives back on track, the bats coming alive and a sense of competitiveness instilled back in the team as the result of an early lead, Tracy Smith and his 13-18 Sun Devils look ahead to a 3-game series against the Washington State Cougars, with freshman Chaz Montoya being given the Thursday night start.
Montoya’s start will mark he first game one of a three-game series that is not started by Eli Lingos this season. First pitch on Thursday is at 6:30 P.M. from Phoenix Municipal Stadium.