ASU Baseball: Freshmen arms deliver in big moments in win vs. Pepperdine

OMAHA, NE - JUNE 23: Joey Hooft
OMAHA, NE - JUNE 23: Joey Hooft /

ASU baseball was involved in a tight game Tuesday night versus Pepperdine with the freshmen hurlers leading the Sun Devils to a 4-3 win.

With three errors, two in the eighth inning, along with anemic hitting, Arizona State did not help itself out against Pepperdine on Tuesday night. But, the Devils prevailed on the backs of its young arms 4-3 to improve to 8-0.

Freshman Erik Tolman, fresh off of a weekend when he earned a save, went 0-for-2 and played left field, received his first start and went five innings without allowing an earned run.

His largest test was in the third inning, when he faced a dubious bases loaded, one out situation. But, Tolman’s body language didn’t alter in the slightest. He continued to attack the lower half of the zone and escaped the jam unscathed.

A big inning from Pepperdine could have put the Devils in a hole as, aside from a second-inning solo shot from Lyle Lin, ASU’s offense was quiet early on.

“When the lights have been turned on, he’s turned it up a bit,” head coach Tracy Smith said.

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ASU faced another daunting situation in the eighth inning. With the score 4-2 and the bases loaded, courtesy of poor defense, Smith turned to another freshman, Blake Burzell.

He had to face Charlie Welch, who had been hitting .471 entering the night. The hard throwing righty allowed a sac fly, but got out of the inning with the lead intact.

Burzell was back on the hill in the ninth and shut the door. After striking out Billy Cook to end the game, he spiked his glove and yelled in excitement as his first career save was in the books.

“I’m a competitor, I get worked up, it was all that hard work, the six am lifts, everything we’ve done in the preseason, how we’re underdogs, I just want us to go 56-0,” said Burzell when asked about his emotion.

Two bases loaded, less than two outs predicaments and ASU’s freshmen pushed through to hold the lead.

For position players who saw composures on the mound dwindle when situations got dicey in the past, it was a relief to see Tolman and Burzell step up when they needed to.

“It was a huge step maturity-wise for us,” sophomore Trevor Hauver said. “Last season after that (errors) happened we were like ‘oh man here we go.’ We really have some guys in the pen like Blake and Tolman who can shut it down for us.”

The jams they pitched out of, especially Burzell’s late in the game, gave Smith a quality look at how his young arms would respond to pressure.

“Not our best game defensively. What was impressive was that we had some young guys on the mound in Burzell and he held together the composure and made quality pitches,” Smith said. “From a coaching stand point it was a perfect scenario to see some adversity and how a guy will respond and I thought he responded beautifully. That was disaster going on behind him defensively and I think a lot of guys would have folded, but he kept his composure and got us out of there with a win.”

Burzell and Tolman pitch different styles. Tolman, in his own words, is a “soft contact” pitcher while Burzell is looking to make people swing through his heater. What has linked the two is how the big moments do not intimidate them, and that quality is an exciting one for Smith and ASU as the season progresses.

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Side notes:
–      Trevor Hauver muscled a two-run home run in the seventh inning to give ASU a 4-2 lead. He now has 11 RBIs in eight games. He had seven in 42 last season.
–      Spencer Torkelson went 0-for-4, his first hitless game of year.
–      Lyle Lin has been working all offseason on hitting the ball in the air. He hit two home runs all of last season, but he matched that number on Tuesday night with a second-inning blast.

All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand by Devils in Detail unless otherwise noted.