Image credit: (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
When facing the high-octane Arizona State offense, opponents know they will need to score runs in bunches to win.
The No. 13 Sun Devils came into the weekend fourth in the country in scoring, averaging nine runs per game. But on Friday night, Washington, which averages 5.5 runs per game, proved to be up to the task. The Huskies’ offense exploded for 10 runs, their most in a Pac-12 game since March 16 at Oregon, which was enough for a 10-6 win Friday night at Husky Ballpark.
Washington (19-17, 6-10) did it against Arizona State ace Alec Marsh, who is ranked No. 141 on Baseball America’ Top 400 Draft Prospects list and has stymied opposing hitters all season. He came into the day with a 1.69 ERA, but the Huskies tagged him for nine runs on nine hits in just two innings, punctuated by a prodigious home run from designated hitter Joe Wainhouse that soared over the batter’s eye.
Washington coach Lindsay Meggs said the game plan was to attack Marsh’s fastball, which can reach 95 mph.
“We tried to get our guys to commit to the fastball,” Meggs said. “We talked about, ‘This guy’s got a big league fastball. It’s a good challenge for you to see if you can match up with someone who can run it up into the mid-90s.’ We kind of sold out to the fastball early and that made a difference.”
The Huskies didn’t allow Marsh to settle into the game, as the first five batters all reached—four on hits—and four came around to score. They added to that the next inning, with Braiden Ward and Connor Blair providing key hits before Wainhouse’s home run.
Wainhouse last year played a big role in helping Washington advance to the College World Series. But the senior has struggled at the plate this season, hitting .148/.260/.352 with 11 walks and 46 strikeouts. His home run Friday was his sixth of the spring, but just his first since March 22 against Southern California.
While Wainhouse’s home run was a moonshot, he wasn’t initially sure if he had got it or not.
“I was actually laughing because I told the guys, ‘You know it’s been a while when I wasn’t sure if it was going out or not,’” he said. “It’s been a while. It was a good day to hit it out of here.”
Wainhouse’s struggles have not been unique among the Huskies this spring. Catcher Nick Kahle has been superb, hitting .372/.521/.570 with six home runs, 38 walks and 17 strikeouts, but no one else is hitting .300 and only outfielder Connor Blair (.295/.364/.535, 8 HR) has an OPS above .800.
Kahle and Blair both had good nights offensively Friday. Kahle walked four times before getting a hit in his final plate appearance. Hitting behind him, Blair went 2-for-5 and drove in three runs.
“Connor’s been a bright spot for us,” Meggs said. “Someone’s got to hit behind Nick, and he got walked four times tonight—until his fifth at-bat he had swung at one pitch.
“Connor’s plugged that gap for us a little bit recently. He’s taken some better at-bats. He’s gotten better as the year’s went on.”
It isn’t easy to outslug Arizona State and its powerful duo of first baseman Spencer Torkelson, who homered Friday, and outfielder Hunter Bishop. But that’s exactly what Washington managed in the series opener.
Now the Huskies have the challenge of carrying that forward the rest of the series. They need to find a way to win this series to keep their postseason hopes alive. They’ll need to get their Pac-12 record above .500 to get a regional bid, and the path to a winning conference record gets easier if they can finish off this weekend the way they started it.
But Friday night was a reminder of what the Huskies are capable of. And, when paired with an 8-3 victory Tuesday at Portland, perhaps the sign of building momentum.
“We’ve been working hard to get through it,” Wainhouse said. “We’ve been going through some things and had a tough couple of weeks, but every week we’ve had something positive to go back to. I think we’re starting to get closer to where we want to be.”