ASU baseball getting hot before critical Pac-12 stretch

After this weekend, the Sun Devils will play 10 straight against Pac-12 opponents

ASU baseball is in the midst of a critical part of its season. Thankfully for them, the Sun Devils (16-19, 5-10 Pac-12) have played better as of late as their conference standing remains in dire straits.

By defeating non-conference opponent UNLV at home last Tuesday, the Sun Devils had broken a five-game losing streak as they sat in the bottom of the Pac-12 conference. Head coach Tracy Smith said after that game “the real test” would come on the weekend against Pac-12 foe Washington State. In that test, ASU swept the Cougars in impressive fashion.

You guys all know we’ve been struggling the last month or so,” assistant coach Fred Nori said Sunday. “It’ll be big, get the sweep, get three wins, that’s really big. We haven’t had that in a while and if any time has been around that’s needed, that team needed it.”

Although ASU lost its sudden four-game win streak with a loss on the road this week to UNLV (the Sun Devils’ third and final meeting with the Rebels this season), it appears that ASU has caught a spark and played better lately.

Even in that loss Tuesday in Las Vegas, the Sun Devils had charged back from what was, at one point, a 6-0 deficit. They eventually had a 12-9 lead in the ninth inning, but junior right-hander Ryan Hingst and sophomore lefty Connor Higgins combined to allow four runs in the ninth inning.

UNLV walked off, 13-12.

Now, with two full days off between that loss and an upcoming three-game slate with Cal State Bakersfield (19-13, 6-6 WAC) – also a non-conference opponent – the Sun Devils’ shot at a rebound effort is right in front of them.

Even still, ASU put up 12 runs in what was nearly a come-from-behind victory on Tuesday. While Higgins got the loss, he’s been a confident and successful pitcher as of late, working his way into a more regular role as the season has gone on.

Higgins even said he loves to pitch in the ninth inning.

“Skip always tells me I’ve got to go with that closer mentality every time I go in, no matter how many runs we’re down or ahead,” he said. “My goal is to keep them off the scoreboard, always, be the closer all the time.”

That kind of confidence could serve Sun Devil baseball well, a team that less than two weeks ago was in a sort of funk, having lost 11 games in one 14-game period.

Plus, sophomore outfielder Gage Canning has hit particularly well as of late, going 8-for-19 (.421) with a home run in his last four games.

“I honestly think I’m just seeing the ball a little bit better,” Canning said of his sophomore success. “It took me maybe a month last season to figure it out, so just seeing the ball better and slowing it down, I’m more comfortable.”

Entering Thursday, ASU sat third-to-last in the Pac-12 (a rebound from before the Washington State series, when the Sun Devils were in last place). They’ll look to gain more ground in the upcoming series with Oregon, Stanford and Washington (plus, a midweek game against Arizona) before they have a single non-conference contest.

The tests, as Smith called it, continue.

Reach the reporter at or follow @Mattjlayman on Twitter.

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