Zach Dixon's complete-game shutout propels ASU baseball to series victory

Dixon gave up just three hits on Sunday.

When his bullpen was thinned down even more after an 11-inning loss to No. 15 Cal on Saturday, ASU baseball head coach Tracy Smith was thinking of who he could throw on the mound for Sunday's rubber match. He said the staff noticed its opponent wasn't statistically as good against lefties, so that narrowed his options down to five players. 

He decided to give freshman left-hander Zach Dixon a golden opportunity. Dixon, who entered with just one inning under his belt, left with a complete game shutout in his first-career start. 

A day after Cal (21-11, 9-6) got 20 hits, Dixon gave up just three and struck out seven on 115 total pitches to carry ASU (20-13, 6-9 Pac-12) to a 4-0 victory and a series win over the Golden Bears. 

Dixon said he found out he was starting after Saturday's 11-inning loss. He then told his parents, who were also a bit shocked because he hadn't pitched much to that point. 

"I was always prepared, but it kind of shocked me a little bit," he said. "(Pitching coach Brandon Higelin) kind of just kept telling me, 'Pound the zone, pound the zone, pound the zone. You have the stuff to get guys out,' and so that's all I was trying to do."

The complete game shutout was more surprising to Smith than sophomore Ryan Hingst's no-hitter.

"I think it was a perfect opportunity for (Dixon) to come in," Smith said. "He executed the pitches he needed to execute in a key situation in order to stay in and then he took it from there. That was awesome."

ASU scored in the second inning for the third consecutive game, putting three runs on the board.

Junior catcher Brian Serven (2-for-4, one RBI) and junior designated hitter Sebastian Zawada each singled before a one-out error allowed junior Zach Cerbo to reach. With the bases loaded, junior center fielder Daniel Williams hit an RBI single before freshman right fielder Gage Canning drew a walk to bring home Zawada. Finally, sophomore second baseman Andrew Snow's sacrifice fly made it 3-0 ASU. 

Dixon allowed a single and a walk in the top of the fourth, setting the table for Cal first baseman Nick Halamandaris. Halamandaris drove the ball to deep right field, but Canning tracked it down and made an impressive play to save two runs. 

"Honestly I owe it to them," Dixon said. "It's not really about me, it's about the team. They picked me up definitely."

The defense was crisp once again, but Smith said it isn't quite up to par right now, and will be something the group needs to improve upon. 

After Canning robbed Halamandaris, sophomore second baseman Andrew Snow's error allowed Aaron Knapp to reach and load the bases. The threat still wasn't quelled. 

That's when Dixon shined brightest. 

"He made unbelievable pitches," Smith said. "He made probably three of the best pitches of the game after we made the error in the fourth ... The three changeups to (Preston Grand Pre). Once we saw that, you could just see the confidence in him continue."

Dixon said Serven told him Grand Pre was a "free-swinger" — he had only drawn five walks entering the game — so he threw that changeup down and inside to strike him out and end an inning that could have drastically changed the game. 

He also held Cal's best hitters in check. Catcher Brett Cumberland went 1-for-3 and third baseman Mitchell Kranson, who came into the game with a Pac-12-leading 14 doubles, was 1-for-4. Additionally, center fielder Aaron Knapp was 0-for-4. 

The Golden Bears left seven men on base and were 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position. Comparatively, ASU was 2-for-6 with runners in scoring position and 2-for-3 with the bases loaded. 

Perhaps lost in Dixon's performance was that of Cal sophomore lefty Matt Ladrech, who gave up three earned runs in eight innings and 110 pitches. He gave up just one run after the second inning. 

ASU's series win over Cal is impressive in itself because it was the toughest test for the group since traveling to play Oregon State. It was swept in that series. 

This weekend, the Sun Devils took two of three largely without its biggest offensive producers. Woodmansee was hitless in the series and junior first baseman David Greer had three, one being a solo home run. 

"Those guys have done their job in carrying us multiple weekends up to this point," Smith said. "I think we need to get to a point where we don't need two guys to carry us to win and consistently be able to be a threat up and down that lineup. I'm proud of the guys to get a series win against a very good team."

Reach the reporter at or on Twitter @justintoscano3.

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