“It just seems so normal because I have been here,” Esmay said after picking up his first as the man in charge of ASU. “It finally hit me when I actually had to lock in and make some decisions.”
With Josh Spence out for the weekend with arm soreness, junior Seth Blair (1-0) got the ball on opening day and tossed five shutout innings for the win.
In his previous two seasons at ASU (1-0), Blair would struggle when he put runners on base and had to work out of jams, on Friday that was no problem.
“I think you saw a mature Seth Blair tonight,” Esmay said. “That has kind of been a stumbling block and it was nice for him to get back on the mound and say ‘I got this thing’ and make big pitches.”
Sophomore designated hitter Zach Wilson got ASU on the board in the second inning with his first career home run, a solo blast that landed on the road over the leftfield fence.
The Sun Devils added four more in the third inning to take a 5-0 lead. With one out, sophomore shortstop Drew Maggi walked and came around to score on an RBI triple to right-centerfield by sophomore second baseman Zack MacPhee.
Senior right field Kole Calhoun followed with a walk, but sophomore first baseman Riccio Torrez popped out to short for the second out.
ASU was on the verge of only getting one run in the inning, but junior left fielder Matt Newman came through in the clutch. Newman crushed a ball down the leftfield line that the only question about it was whether it was fair or foul.
First base umpire Steve Mattingly ruled the ball fair and it was a three-run home run for Newman that caused the ejection of NIU assistant coach Steve Joslyn.
ASU added another pair of runs in the fourth inning to blow the game open. Senior third baseman Raoul Torrez singled to right with one away and Maggi drew his third walk of the game. MacPhee then laced a double to right that scored Torrez. Calhoun followed with a RBI groundout to give ASU a 7-0 lead.
The Sun Devils capped their scoring in the seventh on a RBI groundout by sophomore centerfielder Johnny Ruettiger that scored Newman.
Blair allowed just three hits and walked two in five shutout innings, while striking out five to pick up his first win of the season. Sophomore Mitchell Lambson pitched two perfect innings with three strikeouts in relief of Blair.
Freshman Jake Barrett pitched a scoreless inning with two strikeouts in his ASU debut, while sophomore Jordan Swagerty also tossed a scoreless inning and struck out the side.
“I was really excited about Jake Barrett,” Esmay said. “His first time out on the bump and he is out there throwing strikes. He has some moxie and acts like he has been there before.”
Senior Chuck Lukanen picked up the loss for NIU (0-1), allowing seven earned runs in 5.2 innings, walking eight and striking out four.
MacPhee finished a home run away from the cycle, going 3-4 with 2 RBIs. Newman homered in his second straight season opener, finishing 2-4 with 3 RBIs. Wilson went 2-3, getting the start at designated hitter.
The Sun Devils were again patient at the plate, drawing 10 walks. Calhoun and Maggi each walked three times apiece.
“You look at Maggi and he didn’t have to swing the bat tonight, and MacPhee, they feed off each other,” Esmay said. “When they were trying to control Maggi, MacPhee took care of it.”
Senior first baseman Dave Reynolds picked up two of NIU’s four hits, finishing 2-4. The Huskies didn’t have an extra base hit on the night.