There will be no love lost for UA when ASU travels down to Tucson with a Territorial Cup Series point on the line Friday.
The memory the of the Wildcats (17-23, 6-12 Pac-12) escaping with a win in their final visit to Packard Stadium is still a fresh wound.
“Emotionally, it’s always a big one for us, not only are we playing the Wildcats, but we’re playing them at their place,” coach Tim Esmay said. “This weekend will be a battle, and (Hi Corbett Field) can be an offensive park.”
A late, but key addition to the starting lineup in redshirt junior second baseman Tucker Esmay may provide a boost to a team searching for answers at the plate.
Esmay has quietly chipped in and provided situational hitting both in a bench and starting role for the Sun Devils (21-16, 10-8 Pac-12), in addition to anchoring the infield spot recently vacated by junior shortstop Drew Stankiewicz.
“He had an opportunity to play early, and then was put on the back-burner, and I felt we needed put a little more energy into the weekend,” Esmay said. “I trust his at-bats, and he’s given us some quality ones.”
Esmay acknowledged the frustration of the up-and-down season for the Sun Devil hitters, despite excellent contributions from the starting rotation.
“Our goal as a team is to come together as a group,” Esmay said. “It seems like this year it’s been one or the other. That’s why we’re that far off. As we get closer and closer together on that, that’s when we’ll have an opportunity to play our best baseball.”
Stankiewicz said the lack of run support for the Sun Devil pitching staff was unacceptable.
“We need to hit a lot better,” Stankiewicz said. “Our pitchers are pitching their (tails) off, and we need to help them out a little bit.”
Esmay said his players will take advantage of the week off from nonconference play to prepare and be fresh for the upcoming series in Tucson.
The teams have played twice and split the season series thus far, with UA getting the better of ASU at Packard Stadium on April 9.
Both the Sun Devils and Wildcats are certainly familiar with each other, with one caveat — neither have faced their opponent’s starting rotation.
Last meeting, ASU sent freshman Seth Martinez to the mound opposite UA freshman Morgan Earman, as the two squads squared off in the middle of the week.
“Both teams know each other’s bullpens, and their offenses but what both teams do not know is the starting pitchers,” Esmay said. “The biggest challenge for us is to get information on their starting pitching, but when they go to the bullpen, we’re going to know, and when we go to the bullpen, they’re going to know.”
The UA hitters lead the Pac-12 with 392 total team hits, and also lay claim to four of the top five conference leaders in individual total hits, a fitting test for a confident group of starting pitchers.
A pair of sophomores, shortstop Kevin Newman and center fielder Scott Kingery, and junior second baseman Trent Gilbert lead the high-octane Wildcat lineup, which is near the top of the charts in nearly every offensive category.
Both Kingery and Newman are in the 50-hit club, and Newman has driven in 31 RBIs and stolen 11 bases. Kingery is hitting .379, while Gilbert leads the Pac-12 with seven triples, 55 hits and 88 total bases.
Facing a team capable of lighting up the scoreboard will be a tough test on its own, without factoring in the scars of the previous loss and the emotion and adrenaline of rivalry week.
ASU’s plan to counter the production of the Wildcat hitters is simple.
“We need to click and find a happy medium,” Stankiewicz said. “We need to score runs to make (the starting pitchers) feel comfortable. They’re going to pitch well at UA, and we need to hit well at UA.”
ASU will open the series against UA on Friday, April 25. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m at Hi Corbett Field.
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