Thornton shines in debut, ASU baseball defeats Villanova 6-4

The sophomore transfer allowed two earned runs and struck out eight over 6.2 innings

An impressive pitching debut by sophomore transfer Tyler Thornton led ASU baseball to a 6-4 victory over Villanova in Phoenix on Sunday afternoon.

The right-hander gave up just two earned runs and one hit over 6.2 innings and struck out eight batters in his Sun Devil debut.

“Our approach today was to go at them with fastballs and stay in the zone,” Thornton said. “We wanted to get as many strikes as possible. It was a good team win.”

The Sun Devils recorded five hits on the day and notched each of their six runs through wild pitches, sacrifice flies and passed balls.

Junior infielder Gage Workman, freshman infielder Nathan Baez and redshirt junior catcher Sam Ferri each collected an RBI for ASU.

Thornton, who started opposite of Villanova right-hander Brandon Siegenthaler, hit the mound running, retiring the first nine batters in order with five strikeouts.

“He did a good job of commanding the ball,” ASU head coach Tracy Smith said. “He missed a lot of barrels and gave us a chance to win. It was a good start for him.”

The Sun Devil offense struck first in the bottom of the second inning, courtesy of a sacrifice fly by Ferri that scored junior infielder Spencer Torkelson to give Thornton a 1-0 cushion.

In the bottom of the third, ASU’s first two hitters advanced to second and third base, leading Villanova head coach Kevin Mulvey to insert freshman Cole Vanderslice to relieve Siegenthaler. 

The Sun Devils cashed in on the leadoff hits, scoring three runs, one of which scored on a wild pitch.

Thornton allowed his first base runner in the top of the fourth with a two-out walk to Villanova third baseman Nick Lorusso. Wildcat first baseman Ryan Toohers then lifted a double to right field, which scored a run and himself after a Sun Devil throwing error.

Thornton, however, regained his rhythm by throwing two more scoreless frames.

“I felt pretty comfortable out there,” Thornton said. “It takes me a couple batters to get used to the mound, but it is all good.”

After retiring the first two hitters of the top half of the seventh in order, he issued a two-out walk, prompting Smith to sub in freshman left-hander Graham Osman.

Osman faced Villanova sophomore shortstop Dylan McNary, who homered to deep left-center field to tie the game up 4-4.

ASU quickly reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the inning. With Torkelson and junior outfielder Hunter Jump on second and third, a passed ball paved the way for a run and the Sun Devils entered the eighth with a 5-4 lead.

Junior right-hander RJ Dabovich came in relief to start the eighth, but immediately dealt walks to the first two batters. After a sacrifice bunt advanced each runner a base, a wild pitch led to the runner on third to attempt to score. 

But, Ferri pounced on the ball and threw it to home plate to save the run from scoring. Dabovich was able to strike out Lorusso swinging to escape the half-inning unscathed.

Workman scored on a passed ball in the bottom of the eighth to double the lead. Dabovich then returned to pitch a scoreless top of the ninth, notching a two-inning save and sealing the victory for ASU.

“I felt good out there,” Dabovich said. “We all threw well this weekend. We know the bullpen can take over and end the game if we have to.”

ASU will have a day off before returning to Phoenix Municipal Stadium on Feb. 18 to host Oklahoma State at 6:30 p.m. MST.

Reach the reporter at or follow @thecrote on Twitter.

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