(Photo: Kimmy Davis/WCSN)
Colby Woodmansee hit .200 a season ago, and despite his defensive wonders at shortstop, was benched in the latter half of the season because of his offensive struggles.
In 2015, he’s not only been a transformed hitter, but arguably the Sun Devils’ best hitter.
Woodmansee went 3-for-4 with two singles and a double in No. 9 Arizona State’s 7-4 win over Oklahoma Wednesday night—his two-run, two-out seventh inning double being the game-winner.
“Honestly, it’s just been getting my foot down early,” Woodmansee said in regards to the adjustments he’s made that have contributed to his torrid start. “That’s all I’ve been focused on and it’s been working for me… I can see the ball longer. Last year, I would kind of get out in front of a lot of balls. It’s helped me stay back and see pitches longer, especially the slider.”
The three-hit performance from Woodmansee gives him three multi-hit games this season and also extends his hitting streak to four games.
But stats only tell part of the picture. Thanks to a walk-off bomb on Opening Night and the catalyzing double Wednesday night, Woodmansee’s clutch factor has been the bigger godsend.
“Both those times I was just trying to get the bat on the ball and they just happened to be big hits. This last one I took two fastballs right down the middle and I worked a full count. Skip was down there at third base telling me to look for a curveball. I had that in the back of my mind and so he threw me that and I was looking for it and hit it,” Woodmansee said.
Woodmansee’s double opened the floodgates for the Sun Devils in the seventh inning, as two-out RBI singles from catcher Brian Serven and centerfielder Johnny Sewald pushed across two more runs, making the score 7-4.
“I think he’s bigger and stronger now,” head coach Tracy Smith said of his shortstop’s transformation at the plate. “He’s really dedicated himself in the offseason to getting himself physically ready. One of our sayings in our program is, ‘You don’t know how good you can be until you get your temple in shape. But also, he’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. One of the things we’ve tried to do is say ‘Shortstop is yours now go play.’ I think when guys settle in like that—he’s playing with a lot of physical talent and a lot of confidence.”
Ironically, until the Woodmansee-led five-run seventh, it appeared like a brilliant outing from starter Seth Martinez was going to be wasted because of a third-inning Woodmansee defensive miscue.
A mere pitch after Woodmansee dropped an in-between fly ball in shallow left field (a play in which Jake Peevyhouse was crashing but opted to allow Woodmansee to take a stab at it), three-hole hitter Sheldon Neuse punished a hanging curveball from Martinez for a three-run home run.
The right-handed sophomore Martinez rebounded nicely and compiled the longest outing from an Arizona State starter this season—humming along for six innings of three-hit ball and punching out five.
“I loved the fact that he was aggressive in the strike zone,” Smith said. That’s something we’ve talked about as a staff. We have good enough defenders behind, we’re going to make plays, but it’s tough to defend a walk. I thought he did a really good job pounding the strike zone and changing speeds on everything.”
The Sun Devils immediately started to chip away at the 3-0 deficit in their half of the third, as the flashing speed and nifty slide of Johnny Sewald allowed him to score from second on an infield single up the middle from Joey Bielek.
ASU tacked on another run in the fourth, but that effort was mitigated by Taylor Alspaugh sac fly in the seventh inning to extend the Oklahoma lead to 4-2.
ASU then struck for five in the seventh—putting them in the driver’s seat for good, avenging what Smith called an “emotionally flat” approach, and also creating a save situation for Ryan Burr.
Burr made quick work of the quartet of Oklahoma hitters who stepped in during the bottom of the ninth and in the process notched his 25th career save and sole possession of the all-time saves record at ASU.
“Going into the seventh inning when Woody broke it open, I was just focused on trying to help the team from the dugout—getting guys going, keeping the energy up, just trying to get us back in the game,” Burr said. “Then Woody knocked that double down the line and immediately it was second nature. I just ran down to the pen to see if I was going in or not and once I started throwing, I was thinking, ‘This could be the night.’ There was a lot of emotions in it.”
After tying the school record with a save on Saturday, Burr claimed that the accolade didn’t mean much to him.
He sang a slightly different tune after Wednesday’s win.
“What I said the other night, I think I lied a little bit. Going out there tonight, just knowing that it was riding on the save, it weighed on me a little bit. I’m kind of glad it’s with now we get to move forward. Every other save from now on won’t be as crazy as that one. It was awesome,” Burr said.
The Sun Devils will have a day of practice and then a quick turnaround, as they host No. 1 TCU for a three-game weekend series. Brett Lilek is set to deliver the first pitch on Friday at 6:30 MT.