(Photo: Dominic Cotroneo/WCSN)
In Friday night’s series opener against USC, ASU starter Seth Martinez admitted he didn’t have his best stuff.
Of his 114 pitches, just 59 found the strike zone and his four walks weren’t exactly sharp either – albeit his five strikeouts softened the blow. Nevertheless, his steady nature played big in ASU’s one-run win.
No. 22 Arizona State (34-19, 16-12) defeated USC (26-28, 13-15) 3-2 to open a series with implications unlike any other.
So to what did Martinez attribute his four-hit, two-run performance? The same thing any leader of a team vying for a Pac-12 title and chance to host an NCAA Regional – the willingness of his teammates to pick up the slack when he wasn’t as effective as he typically is.
“Our defense is good enough where, most of the time when it’s hit around them, they’re going to make the play,” Martinez selflessly said.
Even with the down night, Martinez was able to pitch with some confidence courtesy of right fielder Gage Canning, who launched the second pitch he saw over the center field wall.
Canning, a freshman, has flipped the script on his season in a big way – after having batted .197 in the first 26 games of his career, he has exploded onto the scene to the tune of a team-high .365 average and five triples in the 26 games that followed.
With his drastic turnaround, head coach Tracy Smith now views him as someone who can not only hold his own, but can do damage at the plate.
“You want him on base, but he’s becoming a threat in the batter’s box in terms of extra base hits and showing some power,” Smith said. “He’s just getting better and better, but here’s why, because he works at it, he’s one of our hardest workers in practice.”
Canning finished 2-for-4 on the night and elevated his average up to .300, the fourth-highest mark on the team.
Canning’s home run was the only bit of offense ASU was able to muster until the eighth inning, when David Greer added a two-run shot of his own to give the Sun Devils a 3-2 lead.
“Well Greer coming up, you always know that there is a good chance of something good happening,” Martinez said. “When we saw that disappear over the wall, the energy definitely went to a whole new level. We had the lead and we knew that Eder [Erives] was going to come in and shut the door.”
Erives did just that, as he closed the door in the ninth despite working himself into a bases loaded jam.
It was save number 10 for Erives on the year.
“With the game on the line, making four or five pitches in a row on a full count, was a big grow-up moment for him,” Smith said.
The story all year has been the growth of this team — a team that started 1-5 in the conference and has since gone 15-7 – and now, it looks as though the Sun Devils have taken their grow-up moments and pieced them together into something special.
Should ASU take care of business the rest of the series against USC and receive some help from Washington and Utah, it would grasp a share of the program’s 22nd Conference Championship.
For Martinez and the rest of the Sun Devil locker room, it was a conclusion that was never out of the question.
“We kind of all just started over and just tried to play for ourselves,” Martinez said. “Whoever’s up there, whoever got the win, nobody cares who got the credit, just really just playing for each other and knowing that we still had a chance.”
The first pitch of game two is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Saturday.
You can contact Colton Dodgson via Twitter @dodgsoncolton