ASU baseball edges past Washington State to get much-needed Pac-12 win

The Sun Devils won their first Pac-12 game since April 1

ASU head coach Tracy Smith said his team’s win on Tuesday night over UNLV was a “good start” after the team had lost five straight, but that the real test would come on the weekend.

So far, through one game of a three-game series against Pac-12 foe Washington State, the Sun Devils have narrowly passed that “real test.”

ASU beat the Cougars 6-5 on Thursday night in Tempe, Arizona.

“It’s good. It beats losing,” Smith said. “But we gave up seven free passes (walks) again tonight. We cannot continue to do that to be consistent. We’re one swing of the bat away from potentially losing the baseball game that we should be in control of if we cut the walks down.”

Smith did acknowledge the win was a positive in a season in which ASU has struggled.

“We’ve gone through a rough stretch. At the end of the day, no one checks that stuff, they see in the paper the next day, ‘Did the Sun Devils win or lose?’ They won. We’ll take it.”

The win probably wasn’t a comfortable one for those in the ASU dugout; the Sun Devils jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the second inning, but nearly lost it as the game went on. 

As Smith noted, Sun Devil pitchers combined for six walks and a hit batter.

It started with Chaz Montoya, who wasn't so sharp in his last start at Cal. The freshman lefty took the bump as ASU’s starter on Thursday and went on to pitch five innings, allowing seven hits, three earned runs and four walks, striking out one.

Then, when freshman right-hander Alec Marsh entered the game, things got hairy.

Marsh allowed two runners to reach, who eventually scored on sophomore lefty Connor Higgins to make it a 6-5 ballgame.

“Marsh went out and started the inning, I didn’t really have – I won’t say sufficient time, I had enough time – but my fastball didn’t have its peak velocity yet,” Higgins said of his warmup. “So I left that first pitch down the middle and let a guy single back up the middle for two runs.”

The runs were charged to Marsh, but Higgins said that the pressure only fueled him.

“I love closing ballgames. I thrive on that,” Higgins said. “I don’t know if you guys can see, I fist pump after every strike I get. I love the game, love getting those strikeouts.”

The aforementioned early attack by the Sun Devil offense was sparked in part by sophomore outfielder Gage Canning. The leadoff hitter went 2-for-4 with a stunning four RBI and a home run.

“I think I’m just seeing the ball a little bit better. It took me maybe a month last season to figure it out. So just seeing the ball better, it feels more comfortable,” Canning said.

As for the home run in particular, Canning was asked if that’s the farthest he’s hit a ball at Phoenix Municipal Stadium.

“It probably has to be one of them, yeah,” Canning said with a smile.

Washington State and ASU will continue their series on Friday, with the finale on Saturday. First pitch for those games is at 6:30 p.m. and 12:30 p.m., respectively.

Reach the reporter at or follow @Mattjlayman on Twitter.

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