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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Shot at share of Pac-10 title on line in Tempe

    ASU has something the Arizona baseball team wants.

    Both teams are virtual locks for the postseason, both teams could be hosting a regional next week and both teams are currently ranked in the top 15 nationally. But it’s the No. 7 Sun Devils who currently hold a share of the Pacific 10 Conference title.

    In order for the No. 13 Wildcats (39-13, 14-7 Pac-10) to do the same, they have to sweep ASU (41-12, 17-4) in Tempe Wednesday through Friday. ASU hasn’t been swept at home all year.

    “”The series means a lot, and you’ve just got to go out and you’ve got to compete,”” said UA second baseman Colt Sedbrook. “”If you get the sweep, you get the Pac-10 championship, and that’s something that we need.””

    The three-game set was moved up two days because ASU head coach Pat Murphy is on the NCAA postseason selection committee, which meets this weekend to decide the 64-team field.

    The two teams split their non-conference meetings earlier this year, with ASU dismantling the Wildcats 22-8 at Sancet Stadium in February before Arizona took the Challenge at Chase in Phoenix for the second consecutive year a month later.

    Since the Challenge at Chase, ASU is 20-3. Arizona is 17-7.

    “”In the six years I’ve been here, to me this is (Murphy’s) most balanced team,”” said UA head coach Andy Lopez. “”They pitch well, they’ve got decent team speed and, hey, they can hit.””

    ASU leads the Pac-10 in nearly every offensive category, including batting average (.352), home runs (64), RBIs (469), doubles (138) and slugging (.543) and on-base percentage (.442).

    The Sun Devils have scored 516 runs, or 9.7 per game, a mark that leads the nation. No other Pac-10 team has even eclipsed the 400-run mark; Arizona is the closest with 386.

    So how do you slow an offense that easily is the best in the Pac-10, and some argue, the nation? Easy, Sedbrook said. You throw the best pitching staff the Pac-10 has to offer at it. Arizona leads the conference in strikeouts and is second in ERA.

    “”Good pitching always beats good hitting,”” Sedbrook said, “”and I think that our good pitching is going to have a good chance with getting their good hitting out.””

    In ace Preston Guilmet (11-1), the Wildcats feature arguably the top starter in the Pac-10. The right-hander leads the conference in ERA (1.58), strikeouts (126), innings pitched (120), opponent batting average (.200) and is tied for first in wins.

    But it’s another righty, Ryan Perry, who will toe the mound when the series kicks off Wednesday. The sophomore Perry has four career appearances against the Sun Devils, including a start in the Challenge at Chase earlier this season when he struck out five over 3 1/3 innings and gave up just one run.

    In his seven appearances since that start, Perry (0-1) has a 7.11 ERA and 14 strikeouts against nine walks.

    Guilmet, who threw 122 pitches in a complete-game win over Washington last Friday, will start Thursday’s game against the Sun Devils because Lopez didn’t want to push the Friday starter too far out of his routine.

    “”Hey, we would love to win the Pac-10, but at the expense of not having your best arm ready for a regional?”” Lopez said.

    “”Me, personally, I want to throw (Guilmet) on Friday,”” he added. “”I want to keep him on his Friday rotation. I didn’t want to deviate one bit.””

    Lopez spoke with Guilmet, who wanted to start Wednesday’s game, and met him in the middle.

    “”I just wanted to stick to the normal rotation,”” Guilmet said. “”(But) I’m fine to go Wednesday, I’m fine to go Thursday, I’m fine to go Friday.””

    David Coulon (4-3, 4.76 ERA) will start Friday for Arizona.

    After not scoring more than five runs in a conference game for more than a month during a three-conference-series losing streak, the Wildcats found their offense again last weekend against Washington, scoring a total of 37 runs – or one more than their previous 10 conference games combined.

    “”I think we got away from (scoring) because there was a lack of concentration,”” Sedbrook said. “”It was just kind of going along with the flow. We were just kind of rolling down the river.””

    A mid-season 16-game winning streak didn’t help with complacency, either.

    “”A winning streak is something that a lot of teams don’t do, and if you (win) a lot, and you’ve never done it before … it kind of feels like all you’ve got to do is come out get a couple of hits and you’re going to get yourself a win,”” Sedbrook said. “”With playing good teams, that’s going to catch up to you every once in a while, and, obviously, it did.””

    With the offense corrected, Arizona needs just three wins for its first conference title under Lopez.

    “”If the last 10 (games) have meaning, it’s like ‘OK, alright, let’s go,'”” Lopez said. “”When the last three have meaning, that’s even better.””

    Extra bases
    Lopez said Brad Mills, Arizona’s usual second starter, threw in practice Tuesday. Though Mills’ velocity was down Sunday in his first appearance since straining his back three weeks ago, he could be available in relief. … ASU’s rotation has yet to be decided, but it figures to be some combination of right-hander Mike Leake (11-1, 3.57 ERA) and lefties Josh Satow (10-3, 2.21) and Brian Flores (9-1, 3.89).

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