4/16/2013 5:03:05 PM
By Jeff Metcalfe azcentral sports
Much has happened since the last time Arizona State and Arizona played baseball at Hi Corbett Field in late May 2012.
UA, after edging ASU 2-1 in a classic rivalry series, went undefeated in the NCAA Tournament to win its fourth national championship. The Wildcats then turned over much of their roster, started this Pac-12 season 0-6 before regrouping to win eight of their past nine games.
ASU sat out last postseason for NCAA violations and lost four key position players and two important pitchers off a 36-win team. The Sun Devils were 2-4 early in Pac-12 play before winning three consecutive series and nine of their past 12 games.
So going into the first of five rivalry games — Tuesday and April 30 being non-conference — No. 18 ASU (22-10-1) and No. 25 UA (23-12) are remarkably close again right down to their identical 8-7 Pac-12 records. Both trail conference-leading No. 7 Oregon by four games.
“They’re going real well,” ASU coach Tim Esmay said of UA. “When you start 0-6 and are sitting at 8-7, you’ve made some adjustments and have kids starting to jell.”
ASU fans will recognize Johnny Field, the 2012 Pac-12 batting champion, and perhaps others such as Riley Moore and Joe Maggi in the Wildcats’ lineup. But Brandon Dixon, Trent Gilbert, Zach Gibbons and Kevin Newman are among the hitting leaders after the departures of veterans Robert Refsnyder, Alex Mejia, Seth Mejias-Brean, Bobby Brown and Joey Rickard.
UA is hitting a Pac-12-best .311, but ASU holds a slight edge over the Wildcats in slugging percentage and surprisingly leads the conference with 20 home runs.
Zak Miller (2-0, 2.81), who threw five innings to get a win over UNLV on April 10, is ASU’s likely starting pitcher. UA’s pitching decision will be made Tuesday.
“We’d like to get (Adam) McCreery back out there,” Esmay said. “He’s made some strides. But Miller’s earned the right to be our mid-week starter.”
Esmay also hopes Brett Lilek soon will be cleared and able to throw again.
Esmay said catcher Max Rossiter might miss a third consecutive game because of a thigh bruise suffered Friday. If so, freshman RJ Ybarra again would start behind the plate.
No. 18 ASU at No. 25 Arizona
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Hi Corbett Field, Tucson.
TV/radio: Pac-12 Networks/KDUS-AM (1060).
ASU update: The Sun Devils were 2-3 vs. UA last season and lead the series 187-120 (since 1959). OF Trever Allen, with six home runs and 26 RBIs, is third in Pac-12 slugging percentage (.575), with leadoff hitter Kasey Coffman in sixth (.548).
UA update: OF Brandon Dixon is hitting .386, second in the Pac-12, with three others Wildcats in the Nos. 3-5 spots. The Wildcats’ recent run of success — they have won eight of their past nine games — came against Utah, California and Washington State.
Go Devils !!