(Photo: Megan Plain/WCSN)
In Sunday’s series finale, freshman left-hander Zach Dixon got the opportunity to capture the biggest win of the season for the Sun Devils — and he delivered.
Arizona State (20-13, 6-9) defeated No. 15 California (21-11, 9-6) 4-0 in Sunday’s rubber match on the heels of Dixon’s complete game shutout. The Sun Devils have now won four of their last six conference games, as well as two of their last three series’ after opening 1-5 in Pac-12 play.
Three innings was all Smith had expected from Dixon, who was making is first career start.
“We said if he can get through the order and maybe try to get through those left-handers maybe one more time, then he would’ve done his job,” Smith said. “With the freshman it’s the incremental steps, you know. I always tell guys, because they’ll say, ‘Coach, you don’t have confidence in me,’ well, you give us confidence. It’s the things that you do, by your performance, that will put another notch in confidence.”
Dixon had appeared just two other times this season, pitching for a total of an inning.
“I was told I got the start yesterday and I was kind of, well not really shocked but I mean I haven’t pitched too much this season, so I wasn’t really aware of it,” Dixon said. “I was always prepared, but like, it kind of shocked me a little bit.”
The offense made it easy on Dixon, who was able to pitch with a lead after watching his team score three runs in the second inning. From there, he didn’t look back; Dixon gave up just three hits, issued three walks and fanned seven.
Brian Serven added some additional insurance with an RBI single in the eighth to make it 4-0. He finished 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run as a part of what was an overall efficient day on offense for Arizona State.
The Sun Devils tallied just six hits, four of which came with runners on base and two with runners in scoring position.
With two outs remaining in the game, Smith went to the mound to check up on Dixon.
“I said, ‘Hey, whatever we do, we do it aggressively. You’re pitching great,’” Smith said. “I know he already had the one out, but the hardest out in baseball is that first out in the ninth and you could see that he could smell the victory.”
Arizona State played sound defense behind Dixon all day, spare one error. Smith however, wants to see even more defensive improvement moving forward.
“I don’t like where we are defensively right now,” Smith said. “We’ve got to get better at that just overall.”
For Dixon, he felt as though his changeup was his go-to pitch on the day.
“I threw my fastball pretty well, curveball was getting hit pretty hard, but change up definitely got a lot of people out in big times and big situations too.”
Now with some conference experience under their belt, Smith feels as though this series will serve as a turning point for the Sun Devils, who continue to make strides after the shaky start.
“We’re going to take this, we’re going to enjoy it; we’re going to savor it all of about 12 hours, and then were going to get right back to work and get focused on Tuesday night,” Smith said. “Every win is critical for us, our guys know what’s at stake, they know that we have regional bids and all of that stuff on the line, so we’re going to play one baseball game at a time, in and out of conference, and try to win every single baseball game we can.”
The Sun Devils will be back at Phoenix Muni to face UNLV (14-20, 7-10) in a midweek match-up on Tuesday night. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.