By Michael Schwartz
CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Arizona's Jason Donald fouls off a pitch during Sunday's game against Northern Colorado.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
While the No. 10 Arizona baseball team has been beating up on non-conference foes the first two weekends of its season, a more familiar opponent will be coming to town for a non-conference showdown tonight.
That team just happens to be in-state rival ASU.
The No. 11 Sun Devils (6-4) come calling today at 4 p.m. at Sancet Stadium, weeks before conference play begins to allow both schools to get in a full 56-game schedule.
Arizona head coach Andy Lopez said Arizona is a tough school to play at geographically midweek since it is difficult to fly them out the night after a Tuesday-Wednesday series. ASU has no such trouble having just a short drive south to Tucson.
Being a midweek series, the Wildcats will not throw the top of their rotation at the Sun Devils, instead keeping the pitchers on their normal weekly schedule. In their place, freshman Eric Berger (1-0) will make his first collegiate start.
Berger has a 0.00 ERA and has given up one hit in two relief appearances to go along with seven strikeouts and one walk in 3.2 innings. In Sunday's 10-0 victory over Northern Colorado he pitched an inning and struck out all three batters he faced.
Lopez said he hopes to get a similar performance out of Berger that fellow freshman David Coulon put up Sunday, when Coulon pitched five innings and gave up no runs.
"Tuesday, hopefully, we'll get that out of Eric," Lopez said. "It'll be a great evening for me if Mr. Berger could go 60 to 80 pitches. I'm very, very happy with Eric Berger."
Judging by their recent output, Berger will get plenty of help from his offense. The Wildcats are currently batting a scorching .415 and have scored 77 runs in six games.
"The junior class with (outfielder) Trevor (Crowe) and (second baseman) Brad Boyer at the top of the lineup and then (first baseman) Jordan Brown, they're really setting a great tone, and then (senior outfielder) Jeff Van Houten," said junior catcher Nick Hundley, who's batting a team-leading .591 with three home runs and seven RBIs. "Those are big-time guys at the top of the lineup to set a tone, and they've been around a long time. It's been impressive that way."
ASU enters the game coming off a 2-0 shutout loss to Gonzaga Sunday. The Sun Devils also beat Oklahoma and South Alabama this weekend, but lost two out of three to No. 20 Long Beach State to start the season.
The Devils, led by first baseman Jeff Larish and outfielder Travis Buck, took four out of five last year against Arizona, including the two non-conference affairs. However, playing midweek will take some of the fire out of the pitching match-ups with Arizona juniors ace John Meloan and Kevin Guyette and ASU duo Erik Averill and Jason Urquidez unavailable.
"Midweeks are tough because, and they'll probably be in the same position, we're not really throwing, and again, don't take anything away from Berger and the guys we're throwing, but we're not matching up a weekend rotation," Lopez said. "That will be later on in the year in Pac-10 play. We stress go out and play the game as soundly as you can every time out, and Tuesday will be another opportunity to go out and try and play soundly."
Whether or not this is a non-conference game in February or the middle of conference play in May, this is still ASU.
"The rivalry's still there," said sophomore designated hitter Bill Rhinehart, who is hitting .542 with three home runs and 10 RBIs. "We just want to win. It doesn't matter if it's non-conference or conference, it's a game we're going to go out and play and see what happens."
With Arizona being 2-9 against its in-state rivals since Lopez took over three years ago, Hundley said the team looks to turn the tables this time.
"Obviously, it's a big deal when we play them, and we're excited to play them, but it will be good to get a chance to see what they're like because we haven't played real well against them my first two years," he said. "They're our in-state rivals, so there's a little added bonus there, a little more gamesmanship, but we're excited to have another chance to play."