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Arizona vs. ASU baseball: Wildcats, Jay Johnson ready for first 2016 meeting with Sun Devils

Time for the new coach to experience the rivalry

Jason Bartel

Both the Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils have made head coaching changes in the past couple years, giving the baseball portion of the Territorial Cup a fresh new look.

On Tuesday night, new Arizona head coach Jay Johnson will experience this rivalry for the first time as his Wildcats travel to Phoenix Municipal for a single-game, non-conference showdown with the Sun Devils.




Pac-12 Arizona -- Pac-12 Live

"I really try to keep each opponent nameless and faceless," Johnson said after Sunday morning's game vs. Washington State. "But what I've learned is that it's important to all these people that come out and support us at 6 o'clock at night and 10 o'clock in the morning, so if it's important to them, it's really important to me."

"I think our players will be excited about it."

It will be the first time Johnson faces ASU in an Arizona uniform, but not the first time he goes against Sun Devil head coach Tracy Smith.

Smith was the head coach at Indiana when Johnson was still an assistant at San Diego.

"I actually scheduled Indiana in 2010 to open up the season, and then in 2012, so we played six games over a three-year period," Johnson said of the two's past history. "Obviously they did a great job at Indiana and got to Omaha."

"He's a good coach, has a good coaching staff, and should be good competition."

Freshman Cody Deason will get the start on the mound for Arizona, nine days after his first career collegiate start, in which he threw seven innings of four-run baseball in a loss to Utah.

"I feel like we're in pretty good shape because of the way (Nathan) Bannister extended the way that he did, and the way that Bobby (Dalbec) did the way he did. We're in a good spot for a Tuesday game, where we have a lot of numbers available."

But perhaps it'll be a guy who hasn't pitched yet this year to keep an eye on, as fifth-year senior Tyler Crawford seems poised to make his season debut after suffering a setback in Tommy John recovery the week before the season started.

"We're certainly not gonna throw him out there for four or five innings when he hasn't thrown a competitive pitch in over two years," coach Johnson explained. "But I'd like to get him going and in the fold."

Crawford is the lone player remaining from the 2012 National Championship team. He also had an enormous weekend in Tempe two years ago, where he picked up the save on Friday and the win on Sunday in Arizona's final series at Packard Stadium.

"It's only a positive in terms of (experience)," coach continued about the possibility of adding Crawford into the mix. "I think the other positive with him is that this is it. There's no holding back. There's nothing to save yourself for. So if he can get in and make an impact, I know he's excited to do that."

Luke Soroko, another guy recovering from Tommy John surgery, was also cleared after facing live batters in practice on Wednesday, and there's the small potential of him seeing the mound as well if the right situation arises.

In other pitching news, apparently ASU quarterback Mike Bercovici will be throwing out the first pitch:

ASU has struggled a bit this year, coming in with an overall record of 17-12, and are just 4-8 in Pac-12 play, having played arguably three of the worst teams in the conference in Washington, WSU and Utah. That fourth series was a sweep at the hands of Oregon State.

"They had a lot of old players last year," Johnson stated as he tried to explain ASU's current mark. "I want to say they had nine or ten guys drafted, and you just don't replace that talent and experience overnight, even at a school like ASU or at Arizona."

When I went to talk to Johnson in his office on Monday, he was actually watching ASU film and going over some of the numbers at the time.

"It looks to me like they have some younger players and they're still kind of trying to figure out the pieces of where those guys fit both pitching-wise and postionally," explained the UA head coach. "(Colby) Woodmansee is one of the best players in the country, as evidenced by the video I just watched on him."

"They're still plenty good to beat anybody on any given day. They've pitched very well. They have a team ERA of 3.34, and it looks like they use a lot of guys, so I'm sure they're fine."

"We're just all in this meat grinder of a league, where you can't look too far ahead and you can't make too much out of one weekend or a bad game or it's going to catch up with you."

The head of this meat grinder of a league, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, is also expected to be in attendance for this first of five meetings on the diamond between these two teams over the next month.

With the game on TV, we'll be using the comments section below as the live chat, so come on down and talk some hardball with us when the game gets going at 7 PM.