(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
The Sun Devils earned an imperative win on Friday night in their biggest series to date, defeating the No. 17 California Golden Bears by a score of 6-4.
ASU was led by Seth Martinez on the mound and two freshmen at the plate, Tyler Williams and Gage Canning, both of whom are still trying to establish their place in the everyday lineup.
“We were very determined,” Martinez said. “We knew what we had in front of us and we had a chance to get it and we got it. We just have to come back tomorrow and bring the same intensity and get a series win.”
It was the soft-spoken yet collected Martinez who once again delivered an outing that had his head coach singing his praises. The right-hander let up just two earned runs in seven innings, fanning five.
“It’s the most unimpressive quality, and I say that as a compliment,” Tracy Smith said. “He doesn’t have that overpowering fastball or wipeout slider, but yet you look up seven innings later, he’s held you down. We will take that from him every day of the week. He has been effective no matter who we play. He is the leader of our staff and he showed why tonight.”
Cal has one of the toughest lineups that Martinez has faced this season, led by Triple Crown threat Brett Cumberland, but he credited mixing his pitches well as the reason why he held them at bay for most of the game.
“We tried to get ahead early and work outside with the fastball and mix that with the off-speed, and it seemed to work pretty well tonight,” he said.
It wasn’t just Martinez who impressed on the mound. Eder Erives earned his fourth save of the season, recording four outs in the game. As the most reliable reliever on the team, he was needed in the game, even though he is penciled in to start on Saturday.
Martinez was also grateful for the run support given to him early on in the game, which has been hard to come by for the Sun Devils in most of his starts. He credited the six runs scored in the first three innings with helping him get back into a rhythm and a groove.
The two freshmen, Williams and Canning, carried the offense for much of the game. Williams had three hits, all for extra bases, and Canning came up with two hits and an RBI.
“Those were some big hits,” Smith said. “Gage still needs to cut it down and put more balls in play. It seems like when he puts balls in play, good things happen. He beats things out, the bunts, all that stuff.”
Veterans Brian Serven and David Greer had a RBI single and a home run respectively, adding to the damage on offense. It was Greer’s fourth home run of the season and second in as many games. He is now tied for the team lead in homers with Colby Woodmansee and Sebastian Zawada.
ASU also received a boost from designated hitter Ryan Lillard, who only had one hit, but it was a two-run double that increased their lead from three to five runs.
Undoubtedly the most impressive part of the offensive performance was that it all came against Ryan Mason, who entered the game ninth in the Pac-12 with a 2.26 ERA.
The big win was a huge boost in morale for a team that is finally starting to break through at a crucial part of their schedule.
“It is all about ownership,” Smith said. “Really good teams that I have been a part of, the ownership is internal, we have to push the buttons and make sure that things happen as a coaching staff, but if you are going to be good, it is player-driven. What we are starting to see in the past few weeks is a little bit more of that. The players are starting to get a comfort level and are taking over. That attitude and demeanor is reflected in our play, in our dugout, and at practice too.”
They are still just 5-8 in the Pac-12, but perhaps Friday night’s win against the Golden Bears will be what the Sun Devils look back on at the end of the season as the turning point for them.
–Andrew Shaps was removed in the fourth inning due to soreness, according to Smith. It is not expected to be serious.
-Smith also mentioned that it isn’t completely decided, but Eli Lingos and Erives are likely to start the final two games of the series.