(Photo: Blaine McCormick/WCSN)
In the words of winning pitcher James Ryan, “Weird is definitely one way to say it,” when asked to describe the weekend.
The Arizona State Sun Devils opened the season with a doubleheader that saw two crazy games, then expected to play a full game on Saturday and have Sunday off.
While the forecast cleared up for first pitch, the weather worsened quickly, as a downpour started in the third inning with the score tied at 1, sending the game into a rain delay that lasted just over an hour and a half, before the game was postponed until Sunday afternoon.
Sunday’s game was pushed back two hours from the original start time, but 24 hours and 45 minutes after Spencer Van Scoyoc issued a walk to Northwestern right fielder Matt Hopfner, play resumed, this time with Zane Strand on the mound for ASU, relieving Van Scoyoc of a performance that head coach Tracy Smith described at “disappointing.” Strand did not last long though, throwing only ten pitches before exiting the game with an elbow injury.
“On the last pitch of the inning that he was in, he felt something in his elbow, so he went out there, didn’t say anything to anybody, then went out there the next and tried to go, but the velocity was down,” Smith told the media after the series-sweeping victory.
Strand will be fully examined on Monday, but his absence had little impact on the game, as Sophomore Reagan Todd relieved him, throwing three shutout innings and striking out five Wildcat batters.
After throwing the 4th, 5th and 6th innings, sophomore James Ryan entered the game and went the rest of the way, throwing three 1-2-3 innings and keeping Northwestern off base for the remainder of the game, dating back to the 4th inning, when the last Wildcat player reached base.
“That was huge,” Smith said when asked about the importance of the performances out of the bullpen from Todd and Ryan. “And if you look back, even on the second game Friday night, the guys are coming and just holding it there and making those holds in the middle innings is something that we’re going to have to have if we want to be a good baseball team and I like our options.”
After Strand finished the third inning, the Sun Devils bats picked up where they had left off in the second inning on Saturday, as Lyle Lin picked up his sixth hit of the weekend and second of the game, a 1-out single that scored Gage Canning and put ASU up 2-1.
The lead did not hold for long, as Northwestern countered back in the fourth inning with a run of their old, a 2-2 score that would hold until the 8th inning. Lyle Lin recorded his 3rd hit of the game in the fifth inning, but his single was the only baserunner in the game for either team in the 5th, 6th and 7th innings.
In the bottom of the 8th inning, a page turned for ASU, as Ryan Lillard singled to lead off the inning, then a Taylor Lane walk was followed by a double off the bat of shortstop Jeremy McCuin into left-center field, plating both baserunners and putting the Sun Devils up by two runs.
Not only was the off-speed working for the Sun Devil pitchers, as Reagan Todd noticed that the Wildcat hitters were taking a lot of breaking balls, but ASU’s hitters benefited from off-speed pitches as well.
“I was sitting slider… Taylor [Lane] was before me and they threw him four sliders and they were all balls, so I knew that they were going to be coming off-speed,” McCuin detailed after the victory. “On deck, pretty nervous. Had to take a deep breath honestly and just calm myself down and say one pitch at a time, and then first pitch ended up being the pitch I was looking for, I did it.”
After the McCuin at-bat, Myles Denson singled for the second time in the game, then Sam Ferri came in to pinch hit and ripped a double dow the right field line, putting the game out of reach for Northwestern with a score that would hold to be final of 6-2.
Throughout the errors, lead changes and multi-hit games, one common theme in the series for ASU was their play in the late innings.
“I like it,” Smith said. “I was proud of the guys, for a first weekend, for a lot of a new guys, a lot of guys playing different positions and different lineups, I was really proud of the way we competed this weekend. And even guys that weren’t playing were into the game and that really felt good. Prior to the result, it felt good in the dugout, the guys were focused on baseball.”
Moving forward, ASU hosts Oklahoma State for one game on Tuesday, where Zach Dixon is likely to start and Andrew Shaps will continue to sit out. First pitch is at 1pm.