ASU baseball takes season's first Territorial Cup opener behind early runs, Aboites

The Sun Devils led throughout en route to a 7-5 win against rival Arizona at Phoenix Muni.

When considering ASU baseball's struggles to find consistent pitching and offense, Tuesday night was the best of both worlds. 

ASU (18-12) jumped on rival Arizona early and led throughout, allowing starting right-hander Jordan Aboites to pitch comfortably en route to a 7-5 win in the first of five Territorial Cup matchups this season. However, this one does not count toward conference play, but did improve the Sun Devils to 3-1 against their rivals since moving to Phoenix Municipal Stadium a year ago. 

Freshman right-hander Cody Geason started for Arizona (20-13), but when he gave up a leadoff single and consecutive walks to load the bases, he was subsequently pulled. Cameron Ming entered in relief and gave up a flare RBI single to sophomore center fielder Andrew Shaps before junior catcher Brian Serven hit a deep sacrifice fly to give the Sun Devils a 2-0 lead. Junior shortstop Colby Woodmansee extended the lead with a twoRBI single in the bottom of the second inning. 

The offensive cushion start allowed Aboites the opportunity to settle in, which he took advantage of by striking out three of the first seven batters he faced. 

"It helps me stay relaxed," Aboites said. "Any pitcher wants run support like that, so to have it early just kind of allowed me to relax and go out there and do my thing without having to worry about a tie game or 0-0 game or anything like that."

Aboites gave up two earned runs on four hits and struck out three in 5 1/3 innings and 86 pitches. He said his fastball command was good and his slider was sharp. He also noted that his velocity was up a bit to start the game. 

Head coach Tracy Smith said Aboites pitched with "guts" in a performance the team needed given its thin bullpen situation that has persisted all season. 

"He ran out of gas probably in the fourth, but gave us another inning or so and gave us everything he had in the tank," he said. "I was very proud of him for just pounding the strike zone and giving us a chance to win...For him to go five-plus (innings) I think was the key to us winning tonight."

In the fourth inning, freshman right fielder Gage Canning hit a grounder to second base. Instead of opting for the double play, Arizona's JJ Matijevic went home with it and catcher Cesar Salazar couldn't hold on, allowing freshman Tyler Williams to make it 5-0. An inning later, Williams drove in a run of his own with a groundout. 

David Greer hit his third home run of the year in the sixth inning, which was a two-out solo shot off Austin Rubick to make it 7-2. 

Woodmansee led ASU with a 2-for-3 performance with two RBIs. He even drew a walk. 

Greer went 1-for-2, drew two walks and scored three runs. 

The offensive output forced the Wildcats to use seven pitchers, and the longest-lasting one pitched 3.1 innings. Smith said he liked the fact that his team kept adding to the lead and was always threatening. 

"It was good to see those focused at-bats carried on inning to inning and tack on the runs," he said. "I know being on the other side of that, sometimes that can kind of wear on you, be a little demoralizing."

ASU has had issues finding reliable relievers other than junior Eder Erives, but that wasn't the case on Tuesday. Freshman righty James Ryan relieved Aboites in a two-out situation with runners on second and third to face Arizona standout and MLB prospect Bobby Dalbec. Ryan fanned him to quell the threat. 

"I thought that was kind of a turning point because it could have been a momentum builder for them, and he shut it down," Smith said. 

Ryan pitched three innings and gave up three runs, but was pulled after allowing two runs in the ninth that made it 7-5, but Eli Lingos picked up the one-out save. Arizona's ninth-inning runs made ASU's two first-inning ones crucial. 

While the rivalry win was big for pride and momentum's sake, Smith was quick to mention that his team still needs to travel to Tucson for a weekend series that will count toward conference play. 

Now, ASU moves onto hosting No. 17 Cal for a weekend series, which will be its toughest test since traveling to play then-No. 4 Oregon State to open conference play. The Sun Devils were swept in that series. 

Getting off on the right foot Friday will be no easy task as the team will face Daulton Jefferies, Cal's ace and one of the nation's best arms. 

"We got out hands full, but our guys are confident," Smith said. "They know they can do it. You're probably going to see a lot of what you saw tonight. Just matchups and different things to try and figure out how to scratch and claw to win the baseball game."


Reach the reporter at Justin.Toscano@asu.edu or on Twitter @justintoscano3.

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