ASU swept SDSU to kick off its season, winning 6-5 in Friday's opening night, closing the door on the series with a 5-3 victory Saturday then finishing Sunday with a 1-0 win. In every game during the series at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, more than 3,000 fans were in the stands, a first for the club's opening weekend since 2008.
Before the start of the 2023 season, ASU baseball's head coach Willie Bloomquist said the biggest factor to having a successful year on the diamond was the ability to execute, no matter the situation. The situation this weekend was a home three-game opening series and the Sun Devils did nothing but execute.
Sophomore catcher Will Rogers kicked off the season Friday with a career night, going 3-5 with a 448-foot, 111-mile-per-hour home run, a stolen base, and a walk-off single in the ninth to give the Sun Devils their first win.
Rogers said after the game he has a feeling in his heart that this team is different than any other team he's been a part of.
Friday night's opening matchup required some late-inning heroics as the Sun Devils were down 5-4 early in the final frame. The Sun Devils called on a few fresh faces, including freshman outfielder Kien Vu who came in to pinch-hit in the final inning where he singled up the middle to start a ninth-inning rally.
Junior infielder Luke Keaschall, a transfer from the University of San Francisco and preseason All-American, shot a ball into the gap to bring Vu home from first to tie the game. A few batters and baserunners later, Rogers singled into left field to win the game.
Junior pitcher Khristian Curtis commanded not only the strike zone but the entire Saturday game for five innings. Curtis, who made his first-ever start for the Sun Devils after transferring from Texas A&M, finished with six strikeouts and only two hits allowed to earn the win.
This game meant more than just a win for Curtis. The former Aggie had season-ending surgery on his throwing arm in 2022 after just five appearances last season.
"I gotta be honest with you, this is probably the first painless outing I've had in probably three years," Curtis said. "It's kind of a big milestone for me, just felt amazing to get back out there and do what I love."
There were a couple of freshmen who made their name known besides Vu this weekend, including outfielder Isaiah Jackson who roped his first homer in a Sun Devil uniform right over the right field fence Saturday.
"He's beyond his years," Bloomquist said. "As far as maturity is concerned, physically and emotionally, he's just a specimen and the way he carries himself is tremendous. He certainly belongs here and has done a great job."
On Sunday, junior pitcher Timmy Manning took the mound in his Sun Devil debut. Manning pitched 5.2 scoreless innings while recording six strikeouts. Manning demonstrated effective pitch control throughout his start, notching 51 strikes of 81 total pitches.
Both teams failed to record a hit through several innings due to stable pitching and stellar defensive plays. In the second, a highlight play came when Jackson ran to deep right-center field, leaped toward the wall and robbed a home run to keep SDSU off the board.
In the fourth, junior infielder Ethan Long notched the game's first hit — a two-out single to shallow left field — and sophomore infielder Jacob Tobias walked to put runners at first and second. However, ASU couldn't capitalize on the opportunity as Long was caught stealing third.
As fans stood for the seventh-inning stretch, both pitching staffs continued to dominate batters and kept the game scoreless. Breaking the game open, freshman infielder Luke Hill doubled to right field with two outs. Hill adds to the list of freshmen who performed this weekend.
Down to his last strike, graduate student infielder Jonny Weaver roped an RBI single down the left-field line, giving ASU a 1-0 lead.
Not backing down, the Aztecs threatened the Sun Devils' lead in the eighth with a one-out double and stolen base by junior outfielder Cole Carrigg. After Bloomquist brought his infield in, redshirt senior reliever Jesse Wainscott came in clutch and struck out two batters to protect ASU's late lead.
With the game on the line, Bloomquist kept Wainscott on the mound in the ninth. Down but not out, SDSU kicked off the inning with a leadoff triple by redshirt sophomore outfielder Shaun Montoya. With the tying run at third, Wainscott struck out two batters and forced a groundout to seal ASU's 1-0 victory.
ASU's pitchers recorded 13 combined strikeouts while allowing just five hits. Bloomquist said his pitching staff performed well all weekend and made up for his team's quiet day at the plate.
"I think you start with mentality and we preach since day one, don't beat yourself," Bloomquist said. "We didn't exactly beat the brakes off it offensively today, it was pretty dismal. At the end of the day, we didn't beat ourselves on the mound or defensively."
The Sun Devils are home again Tuesday, playing UNLV at 6 p.m. MST at Phoenix Municipal before traveling to Starkville, Mississippi to play a weekend series against Mississippi State.
Edited by Kathryn Field and Piper Hansen.
Vincent Deangelis is a full-time reporter for the sports department at The State Press. He has previously worked for Arizona PBS and AZPreps365.com.