(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
Confidence is arguably the most important trait for any sports team to have. It can make seemingly bleak scenarios feel surmountable, which can turn a season around.
Arizona State showed plenty of confidence in their series opener against the Long Beach State Dirtbags, as they battled back from a 5-0 first inning deficit to walk-off with a 7-6 victory in ten innings.
Coming into the weekend on a four-game losing streak, most recently off a mid-week two-game sweep at the hands of Cal State Fullerton in which they were outscored 23-8, the Sun Devils were looking for anything to get themselves back on the winning track.
Trailing 6-4 with two outs in the ninth inning, with right fielder Gage Canning on first base after an infield single, Andrew Shaps took the first pitch he saw from Josh Advocate over the right field wall to tie the game at six.
“I figured he was going to throw me a fastball. He started two of the first three batters off with a fastball, so I saw it and it was up,” Shaps said. “I just tried to put a good piece on it.”
After freshman reliever Chaz Montoya finished his 3 and 1/3 innings of scoreless relief in the top of the tenth, the Sun Devils loaded the bases in the bottom half, with Ryan Lillard scoring the winning run on a throwing error by Dirtbag second baseman Jarren Duran.
The win, which evens Arizona State’s record at 7-7, was a product of the team staying poised and concentrated on the goal at hand, according to head coach Tracy Smith.
“We weren’t going to give in regardless of the circumstances of recent ball games,” Smith said. “I think the senior leadership, led by Zach Cerbo, really got the guys in the right mindset prior to the game. But it was really really cool from my perspective to just see the sustained effort and the guys into each other.”
The start of the game seemed to mirror the issues that had plagued ASU throughout their four-game skid, with one bad inning seemingly dooming any true chance of a comeback.
However, Smith praised Lingos’ performance to only allow one more run through six total innings of work and keep the team within striking distance.
“What I think you saw out of him was he still showed maturity to throw some zeroes up and keep us around for the next five or six innings,” Smith said. “[It was] not his best start, but he hung in there and gave us a chance.”
Moving forward, with two more games against Long Beach State before Oregon State comes to Phoenix to open Pac-12 play, the players believe that a win such as this shows how far the team has come in the young season, and what can still lie ahead for them.
“I think it’s pretty big, because we all have confidence in each other throughout the game, and this builds it,” pitcher Chaz Montoya said. “But we’ve been working on each other on staying confident and knowing that everyone has each others back no matter what the score is because we know we have the talent here to out runs up in big numbers in any inning.”
Bobby Kraus is a baseball beat reporter for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network. You can follow him on Twitter @bobbykraus22