The Sun Devils defeated cross-state rival Arizona three times at home to secure a weekend sweep and their first series victory against the Wildcats since the 2019 season. ASU (16-8) has won 10 of its last 11 games and continue to defend Phoenix Municipal Stadium with a 13-3 record at home.
"There's more understanding to what wins and loses games and to the attention to detail," said ASU head baseball coach Willie Bloomquist. "It's not the talent that wins every day. It's the little things that add up that can get you punched in the mouth."
Over 17,000 attendees packed Phoenix Municipal Stadium through the weekend series that was kicked off by new ASU head football coach Kenny Dillingham throwing out the first pitch on Friday night.
The weekend saw an offensive explosion as freshman infielder Nu'u Contrades willed ASU to a Saturday victory by nailing a three-run home run in the sixth that Bloomquist said made "the roof come off this place," giving the Sun Devils a lead that would carry them for the rest of the game.
Contrades followed up Saturday with another home run and two more RBIs on Saturday to punctuate a strong rivalry week for the freshman.
Friday night was highlighted by two factors: the crowd and junior infielder Luke Keaschall.
Keaschall put the team on his back in the 6-5 win Friday, hitting two home runs and accounting for five of the team's six. He hit a two-run homer to center field in the bottom of the first to tie the game after Arizona went up 2-0 in the top of the frame.
Two innings later, he practically replicated his first-inning bomb, hitting another one to center field, driving in three runs to put the Sun Devils up 5-2.
"I feel good right now," Keaschall said. "Maybe not results-wise, but just seeing the ball and hitting the wall and staying on top of the ball, hitting lasers. It comes and goes."
Junior pitcher Matt Tieding got the win on the bump, coming in with one out remaining in the top of the fifth and staying until the ninth inning. Tieding finished with three, and one-third innings pitched, allowing only one run to keep the Wildcats at bay.
Tieding said the most significant element of his success was trusting the fielders behind him because he knew they would make plays, and that's what they did, as he only finished with one strikeout.
After securing the series lead, the Sun Devils' bats remained hot in a 7-4 victory over the Wildcats Saturday. Contrades' five RBIs powered ASU to its series-clinching win.
The Wildcats loaded the bases in the second inning with a string of hits. UA took an early lead thanks to a sacrifice fly and led by three after an RBI single. An inning later, ASU responded with an RBI double by Contrades to trail 3-1.
Heating up at the right time, freshman infielder Luke Hill and senior infielder Willie Cano kickstarted a five-run sixth inning with a pair of singles. With runners at the corners, redshirt junior catcher Trey Newman hit a sacrifice bunt to trim UA's lead to one.
After a pair of strikeouts, freshman outfielder Isaiah Jackson came to the plate with the chance to redeem himself. Down in the count, Jackson ripped a double down the right-field line to tie the game and ignite the crowd.
Two batters later, Contrades turned on a fastball and crushed a three-run homer to left field, delivering the Sun Devils a 6-3 lead.
"It meant a lot," Contrades said. "I think that was the biggest hit of my life so far."
Down but not out, the Wildcats capitalized on a defensive error to plate a run in the eighth. Nevertheless, Contrades struck back with another RBI double to rebuild the Sun Devils lead and secure the win.
ASU's high-powered offense provided the difference as nine Sun Devils got on base once while seven recorded at least one hit. With plenty of run support, ASU's bullpen lived up to Bloomquist's expectations by limiting UA to seven hits and three earned runs.
"Things are going the way we had planned," Bloomquist said. "...That's what we're going to go with. We're going to go with, in our mind, the best arms there to finish it out."
On Sunday, ASU put the smackdown on the Wildcats, clinching the sweep with a dominant 10-6 win to close the weekend.
ASU took a two-run lead in the bottom of the second from an RBI to double by Jackson, followed by an RBI groundout by Newman. The Wildcats responded immediately with a three-run long ball into right field from junior outfielder Chase Davis to take the lead.
After that, ASU struck down the Wildcats with a flurry of home runs.
Senior infielder Wyatt Crenshaw promptly tied up the game not even an inning later with a solo shot over the screen in right-center field. Sophomore infielder Jacob Tobias gave ASU a one-run lead again with a sacrifice fly later that inning.
Freshman outfielder Kien Vu took one deep for his first career home run for ASU in the fourth inning, and Contrades followed suit, continuing his hot streak with a home run of his own in the bottom of the fifth, taking ASU's lead to 6-3.
Tobias hit another sacrifice fly to extend the lead to four before the end of the inning. The sixth inning saw Contrades, the usual suspect, put the game out of reach with a two-run single up the middle. Sophomore catcher Ryan Campos hit another homer later that inning for good measure.
The Wildcats showed their claws one last time with a three-run surge in the top of the eighth to cut ASU's lead to four, but it wasn't be nearly enough.
"This was a fun series," Bloomquist said. "To come out and sweep those guys, it felt good. It was an emotional weekend for our guys. I'm glad they embraced what this weekend meant. They bought in."
ASU takes its winning ways in the team's next matchup to Las Vegas against UNLV Tuesday, then continues Pac-12 play this weekend with a series at California. On Feb. 21, ASU beat UNLV 6-3 with runs scored by Keaschall, Crenshaw, Campos and junior infielder Ethan Long.
Edited by Walker Smith, Piper Hansen and Shane Brennan.
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.