There’s still one game left in the three-game weekend series between Arizona State and University of Arizona, but a win in the late afternoon game today would just be icing on the cake for the Sun Devils. By winning the Friday and Saturday games, ASU wrapped up this year’s Territorial Cup point in baseball.
The two teams split the first two games they played earlier in the schedule, so this series was to decide who would get the point in the annual rivalry between the Pac-12 schools. Baseball is just one of 20 sports involved in the competition each year. In order to secure the trophy, one school must accumulate 10.5 points; the baseball win gives ASU a 9.5 – 6.5 lead.
ASU scored a pair of runs in the seventh inning to claim a 2-1 victory in the Friday opener, as sophomore left-hander Brett Lilek struck out five and allowed three hits to record his fourth win of the season and post consecutive wins without allowing an earned run. Shortstop Drew Stankiewicz led the offensive effort, going 3-for-5, and center fielder Johnny Sewald pounded out two hits while the defense turned four double plays to kill any Wildcat attempt at getting a rally started.
In yesterday’s game that clinched the Territorial Cup point, it was another sophomore lefty that took charge from the mound. Ryan Kellogg struck out eight and scattered seven hits and two walks as he ran his season record to 6-2 and put together his third consecutive win.
Stankiewicz, a Gilbert High School graduate, and designated hitter RJ Ybarra both slashed two-run doubles in the fifth inning to give the Devils a 4-0 lead that was never challenged on the way to a 7-0 shutout. Chris Beall, the sophomore left fielder from Brophy Prep in Phoenix, piled up a career-high four hits and accounted for two runs, while another local high school grad also made a major contribution at the plate. Jake Peevyhouse, a junior right fielder from Pinnacle High in Phoenix, contributed a pair of hits and two runs.
This afternoon, the Sun Devils are scheduled to send right-hander Darin Gillies (1-3, 3.96 ERA) to the mound as ASU continues to work toward its 52nd consecutive season with 30 or more wins. In order to get there, the Devils (23-16) will have to win just seven of their final 16 games of the regular season.
They should accomplish that goal, but could easily fall short of the 37 wins they posted last season, which ended in disappointment when No. 5 national seed Cal State Fullerton beat them in the regionals. The year before was perhaps even more frustrating since they went 36-20 but were ineligible for post-season play thanks to some lingering NCAA sanctions that caught up them from several years back.
This started out as a year of high expectations for a team that returned five starters in the field, including 10 pitchers and a trio of All-Conference selections. And, for added motivation, this year became the farewell tour for Packard Stadium, the 40-year home of the Devils baseball program which will be torn down after the season as the team moves into Phoenix Municipal stadium for the 2015 season.
But they’re a team currently sitting in third place in the conference and have won just six of their last 11 games – and the final stretch will be challenging. They have just three conference opponents left, but that includes a three-game series with Oregon, which is just a couple of games behind them in the Pac-12, in fourth place. And then there’s three games with Oklahoma State (30-13), the No. 9 team in the country – and those games are in Stillwater. UNLV, which has won 27 games this season and is in second place in the Mountain West Conference, is also on the agenda for a road game in Las Vegas, just after the Devils come off of the six games with Oklahoma State and Oregon.
For the last 18 years, an ASU team has finished the season with a national ranking. Fortunately for the Devils, they have some quality teams left on their schedule and may have a chance to squeeze back into the top 25, but they will have to beat them all to make a case for being included in the rankings.
But for now, at least, there’s the satisfaction of beating their old rival and setting their school up for what would appear to be an eventual awarding of the Territorial Cup trophy. The Tempe program is just a point away from winning the head-to-head competition – and there are four sports yet to weigh in.
Soon, however, the attention will turn back to the farewell tour – and getting back on the road to Omaha for the College World Series, which has eluded them the past three seasons.
(Photo; ASU Athletics)