Timely pitching, aggressive baserunning helps ASU baseball win against Utah

The Sun Devils stranded 13 Utes runners on base and held them to 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position

ASU baseball used timely pitching to win against Utah 4-3 Friday night in Phoenix. The Sun Devils stranded 13 Utes runners and held them to 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position.

Along with escaping jams, ASU captured the win by capitalizing on defensive miscues by Utah in the bottom of the seventh and using aggressive baserunning. 

In the seventh, freshman infielder Blake Pivaroff hit a fly ball into shallow right field that fell in front of the defender, scoring redshirt freshman outfielder Kai Murphy from third to give ASU a 3-2 lead. 

Redshirt freshman Seth Nager replaced Pivaroff as a pinch-runner. He stole second and advanced to third on an errant throw into center field. 

With two outs in the inning, redshirt junior shortstop Drew Swift hit a chopper to third, and Utah freshman third baseman Kai Roberts bobbled the ball, then delivered a low throw to first, which his first baseman failed to catch. The error allowed ASU to extend its lead to 4-2. 

The Sun Devils scored each of its four runs using aggressive base running, including Nager's steal and Murphy tagging up from second on a fly ball to set up Pivaroff's RBI. 

"It does not always have to be with the stick in your hand, you can do it by making good decisions on the bases, when to take the extra base and put pressure on the defense," head coach Tracy Smith said.  

ASU's pitching staff handed Utah eight walks, helping the latter team place runners in scoring position in five of nine innings. However, the Sun Devils' pitching stranded seven runners across the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.

One of ASU's high-leverage situations was when Utah had the bases loaded with one out in the eighth inning down by one run.

Freshman closer Ethan Long walked one of those runners on base after coming in for redshirt freshman pitcher Cam Dennie. However, Long escaped the trouble by forcing a flyout to right field and a lineout to shortstop. 

Long then closed out the Utes in the ninth to earn the save. In 5.1 innings pitched this year, the freshman is yet to allow an earned run and has three saves. 

"It's special when a freshman comes in and can take on the role he's taking on and do it without flinching," Murphy said.

Smith called the win a game of growth for his team after the game. He voiced displeasure with the high walk total from his pitching staff but commended the team for staying strong in difficult jams.

"The bad part of that was we put ourselves in position where we had to fight out of it, the good part was we fought out of it," Smith said. "That's growth, but we clearly don't want to be in that (position) often."

ASU redshirt sophomore pitcher Tyler Thornton allowed two runs, walked three batters and threw 91 pitches in four innings on Friday. 

With the news this week that starting pitchers redshirt freshman Cooper Benson and redshirt junior Boyd Vander Kooi are done for the season with each needing Tommy John surgery, going to the bullpen early on Friday was not ideal in the interest of pitching depth for the weekend. Smith said it "forces his hand" with pitching options for the next two games. 

ASU will play the second game of the series against Utah Saturday at 2:05 p.m. MST. 

Reach the reporter at alexjweiner@gmail.com and follow @alexjweiner on Twitter.

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