While the University of Arizona men’s basketball team is busy in Los Angeles working its way toward a berth in the Final Four, the Wildcats’ softball team is getting ready to provide some fireworks for the fans back home in Tucson.
It’s time for the annual Territorial Cup battle as a three-game series begins tonight between No. 13 Arizona and No. 21 Arizona State.
And if you like big bats and long balls, Hillenbrand Stadium on the UofA campus is the place to find fan-pleasing offense as these two Pac-12 rivals meet in an evenly-matched competition that dates back to 1971 when they began playing each other. The Sun Devils hold a slim advantage over the years, 99-95, but it has been the Cats leading the way since 1982 when softball became an NCAA sanctioned sport, taking a 89-48-1 advantage since then.
But bringing the rivalry up to date, ASU won last year’s series played in Tempe, taking the first two games of the weekend before the Wildcats needed 10 innings to eventually capture the third and final game. And the Sun Devils have won nine of the last 12 meetings with Arizona.
Coming into this year’s series, both teams are at the top of their games, using power at the plate to stack up wins. Arizona is 27-7 this season and 2-1 in the Pac-12, with all seven of its losses coming at the hands of ranked opponents. The Cats are coming off a week in which they went 4-0 against Connecticut, San Diego State, and New Mexico State.
In the double-header with New Mexico State, Arizona batters scored 25 runs by piling up 33 hits – that included seven home runs. Chelsea Goodacre contributed three of those round-trips by herself – all coming in a single game, which tied a school record.
In the other two games, Arizona took just five innings to beat UConn, 12-0. and then knocked off San Diego State, 6-1. The Cats once again were efficient and effective at the plate, running up a total of 22 hits in the two games, including three more home runs.
The Sun Devils (22-10, 3-2) are also hitting their stride, winning seven of their last 10 games, during which they faced eight ranked opponents. Fourteen of their opponents this season have been ranked nationally and they were able to pick up three wins against top-10 teams.
They won their Pac-12 home-opener series last week against No. 12 California (23-6, 3-2), using strong hitting to get the job done.
In the opener with Cal, the Sun Devils used four home runs to fuel their 8-7 win – collecting three of those against Cal starter Stephanie Trzcincki, who had given up just five homers all season long. In the series finale, the ASU hitters won that game by exploding for 11 runs in the final four innings to overpower the Bears and pocket the series victory.
The Devils have 48 homers on the year, which ranks second in the conference, and two players have nine apiece, Amber Freeman and Bethany Kemp. Freeman also has 11 doubles and is swinging the bat at a .388 average.
But it’s going to be tough to match up to the Wildcats’ production at the plate, particularly since the Sun Devil pitching staff is struggling with hitters that use the long ball to advantage. The ASU pitchers lead the Pac-12 in home runs allowed.
So expect a feeding frenzy this weekend. The Wildcats are ranked 20th in the nation in home runs, with 46 so far this season and averaging better than one a game. And they’re second in the conference and fifth in the nation in team batting average, coming into the series hitting .370.
ASU’s schedule this season is considered one of the toughest in the nation, so Arizona’s ranking at No. 13 shouldn’t be an intimidating factor. However, the fact that this series is being played in Tucson will undoubtedly give them some angst. The Wildcats are 17-0 at home this season and eager to get back on their own turf after being on the road for their last 12 games.
And there’s an additional incentive this weekend, for both teams. Each school needs this series win because the winner will pick up a full point in the all-sport competition for the Territorial Cup – and ASU holds a slim 6.5 – 5.5 edge so far this year.
Both teams power up for the first pitch in tonight’s 5 p.m. start.
(Photo: ASU Athletics)