Baseball gets serious tonight as ASU takes on UCLA

Arizona State dropped in the polls this week and took out its frustration on the University of San Francisco, winning both games and capping the series with a 21-3 blowout Wednesday.

But all that changes tonight when ASU takes on UCLA on Bruin turf.

This isn’t another walk-over.  These are two of the best teams in the Pac-10 this season.  The outcome of this series will put one of the teams in the driver’s seat for the conference crown.

The Bruins (30-7, 7-5) are coming off a 4-1 win over UC Irvine, a tune-up game for this weekend’s three-game series with the Devils.  ASU (35-5, 11-4), meanwhile, overwhelmed San Francisco, which has yet to win a game against the Devils in six meetings over the years.

ASU used the first game, an 11-5 decision, as a home-run derby for Riccio Torrez, Kole Calhoun, and Zack MacPhee.  The trio each hit a homer to stay tied at seven for the team lead.  Riccio was a man on fire both games, going 4-for-5 in the opener and adding four more hits in the second game.

In the 21-3 finale, all nine starters had two or more hits and 11 different players had a hit and scored a run.  This time,  Zach Wilson and Johnny Ruettiger scored the home runs (back-to-back) while the Devils piled up the runs in bunches – five in the third, five more in the fifth, and eight runs in the seventh.

But that hitting spree will likely be corraled by the Bruins pitching staff, which is the best in the Pac-10 based on their 2.75 team ERA.  The expected starter is sophomore ace, Gerrit Cole, who is the conference leader in strikeouts with 86.  He is 6-1 with a 2.89 ERA.

On the other hand, ASU tops the conference in hitting with a .350 team batting average.  The Devils are hitting home runs at a prolific pace and four of the top eight hitters in the conference wear maroon and gold.

Both teams set a torrid pace right out of the blocks this season, with ASU recording the school’s best start ever with 24 straight wins and UCLA jumping out to a 22-0 start.

Now ASU is ranked No. 2 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll and No. 3 in Baseball America’s top 25.  The Devils fell from No. 1 in the USA Today poll when Texas jumped ahead of them.  UCLA comes in at No. 5.

The Bruins just added an extra grandstand along the right field side to expand their seating by about 650.  They’ve been averaging more than 1,400 fans for their weekend games.

But that shouldn’t bother the Sun Devils.  They’re used to playing in front of 3,000+ at Packard Stadium.

It shouldn’t take more than one or two of those scoring bunches to quiet the Bruins fans.  No matter how many seats they fill this weekend.

(Photo: ASU Athletics/Dennis Hubbard)