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Arizona vs. ASU baseball preview: Wildcats travel to Phoenix for three-game series with Sun Devils

Those first two games in Tucson don’t matter too much

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Phoenix Municipal Stadium
Jason Bartel

The Arizona Wildcats and Arizona State Sun Devils have already faced off on the diamond twice this season, splitting those two midweek games in Tucson.

But now the true Pac-12 series is upon us, with the three-game set at Phoenix Municipal commencing on Thursday evening.

“I am going in with a clean slate and kind of evaluating them like we haven’t faced them yet,” Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said on Tuesday.

In those first two games, UA hitters have seen eight different ASU pitchers throw (seven active with Zach Dixon leaving the team), so there will at least be some familiarity there.

“We try and take every game the same preparation-wise,” catcher/outfielder Ryan Haug added. “But having already played them twice in midweek and they tried to throw several guys, so in that case, having seen a lot of different guys is really beneficial.”

“There’s some familiarity with the hitters and adjusting defensively to them,” second baseman Kyle Lewis explained about another semi-advantage. “And pitching-wise, we’ve had a couple crazy games against them already this year, and we’ve seen a lot of bullpen guys and a couple starters so it helps us out a lot.”

On the flip side, nine different Arizona pitchers have already shown their stuff to the Sun Devils, so the Wildcats don’t have much of an advantage in that regard.

Since Johnson has arrived on campus, he’s instilled the “Every Game is The Super Bowl” mantra with this team, but there is a little bit more behind these particular games.

“It’s always fun going through high school and then JC having those rivalries,” Haug said. “And then coming here, you know about it, Arizona-ASU, trying to be the best in the state. We try not to put a label on it or anything like that but I think you definitely get a little bit more of an edge.”

“It’s always gonna be a big game,” Director of Player Development Brandon Higelin added, who happened to be the ASU pitching coach the last two years before joining the Wildcats. “I think the fans make it a bigger deal. At the end of the day it’s just another game. In baseball, if you only get up for a certain game, what are you supposed to do, hit better because you’re playing against ASU? So for both sides, it’s a more emotional game because we make it that way as people, but it’s just another game where both teams try to win.”

All three of these games at Phoenix Muni are going to be at night, so the crowd should be amped, much like it was last year when Arizona set a Hi Corbett attendance record.

“The ASU series last year was a fun one here at Hi C with the rally towels going crazy,” Lewis recounted. “I think I DH’d a couple of those games and it was just fun to take it all in. The games themselves don’t really change, but the fans come out and we love the support, and it’s just an exciting time to be a Wildcat.”

Arizona does have a lot more to play for than their counterparts to the North. The Wildcats are on the hosting bubble, and will likely need to win at least two games this weekend to keep that hope alive.

ASU is playing to avoid just its second losing season in program history. At 23-26, they have to close the year 5-1 against Arizona and Utah to get back to .500. They are 4-2 in their last six games, so the Sun Devils have been playing better of late than their record indicates.

It’ll be an interesting time in Phoenix to say the least.

Pac-12 Baseball Standings

Team Conference record Overall record
Team Conference record Overall record
Oregon State Beavers 27-3 46-4
Stanford Cardinal 19-9 38-14
UCLA Bruins 18-10 29-24
Arizona Wildcats 15-12 36-17
California Golden Bears 13-14 23-28
Washington Huskies 13-15 27-25
Utah Utes 12-15 24-24
Oregon Ducks 11-17 29-24
Washington State Cougars 10-18 24-27
Arizona State Sun Devils 8-19 23-29
USC Trojans 7-21 20-33