Tonight’s baseball game between the Wildcats and Sun Devils is considered a non-conference meeting, but it won’t have any trouble generating fan interest – for a number of important reasons.
Start with the fact that it is always important when these two Pac-12 teams meet because of the rivalry associated with every meeting. This is the first of five games between the teams this season and tonight’s game will help determine the winner of the baseball point that goes toward the State Farm Territorial Cup Series. The series winner each year is determined by counting the results of all head-to-head sporting events.
This is also a game between two nationally-ranked teams, with Arizona (24-11/10-5) at No. 13 and ASU (23-13/9-6)) at No. 20.
(*Update: ASU collected seven runs in the seventh inning to post a come-from-behind win, 12-8, and notch its eighth victory in nine outings. The Cats will get another chance to get their own Territorial Cup Series point when the teams meet again in Tempe on May 16.)
And, for the Sun Devils, it’s particularly important because winning the Pac-12 Championship is their primary goal this season, since they aren’t going any farther than the conference tournament. The Devils are dealing with an NCAA ban on post-season play this year.
The post-season ban is the final remnants of NCAA penalties that were imposed on the program for infractions under former coach, Pat Murphy. An appeal by ASU, which it lost last year, has stretched the process out for more than four years.
ASU is one game out of first place in the conference, sitting behind three teams tied at the top – one of which is Arizona.
The Sun Devils have a couple of things working in their favor for this game: they are playing at home and have some momentum.
ASU is coming off consecutive three-game sweeps against Pac-12 opponents, first beating Oregon State and then USC over the weekend. The Devils showed their power at the plate and on the mound in beating the Trojans. Three players hit home runs and five pitchers held USC to a total of four hits.
The two runs that USC managed over the three games tied an ASU record for fewest allowed in a conference series.
Arizona, on the other hand, has been in a bit of a slump lately. The Cats haven’t been able to put together two wins in a row since the end of last month when they swept a three-game series against Stanford.
And they are coming off a series loss to then-No. 17 UCLA. The loss of two out of the three games to the Bruins also signaled the end of a string of eight straight weekend series victories – and dropped them eight places in the national rankings.
But that will all mean little when the two teams collide in tonight’s rivalry game.
Arizona will bring a .326 team batting average to Tempe, which ranks as the fifth-best in the country. Four hitters rank in the top 10 for total hits and runs scored in the Pac-12, which has resulted in the Cats being able to collect more than 10 hits in 26 games this season.
ASU counters with a line-up that includes 10 players who have collected home runs this season.
Both teams have strong pitching, but the Sun Devils will face a Wildcat pitching staff that leads the conference with 250 strikeouts.
All in all, it should be the kind of game fans expect from a rivalry encounter.
If you’re planning to attend the 6:30 pm game at Packard Stadium, bring a little extra cash. Tonight’s game will be the first of two “Pass the Bucket Nights” that have been arranged to help raise money for the Cory Hahn Foundation.
The volunteer effort will go to help raise money and awareness for the family of Cory Hahn, an ASU player trying to recover from a spinal cord injury suffered during a base-stealing attempt in a game last year.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)