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Baseball prepares for youthful Stanford

Ready to go: ASU junior Kramer Champlin releases a pitch against WSU on April 17. Champlin is expected to start on Saturday against No. 25 Stanford. (Photo by Lisa Bartoli)
Ready to go: ASU junior Kramer Champlin releases a pitch against WSU on April 17. Champlin is expected to start on Saturday against No. 25 Stanford. (Photo by Lisa Bartoli)

In baseball, experience typically goes hand in hand with success.

But for the ASU baseball team’s opponent this weekend, success is defined by youth.

Stanford is a team littered with underclassmen.

Its starting lineup features three freshmen and five sophomores.

The sole senior is catcher Zach Jones, who is hitting just .246.

Stanford’s top three batters are sophomores Stephen Piscotty (.348), Kenny Diekroeger (.324) and Jake Stewart (.328), all of whom started last season as true freshman, a part of Stanford’s No. 2-rated recruiting class.

“Young or old, they are going to play with the same fire coach [Mark] Marquess instills in them,” ASU coach Tim Esmay said. “The don’t deviate from that. They are going to not strikeout, put the ball in play and move runners.”

On the other hand, the No. 7 Sun Devils (29-9, 11-4 Pac-10) are a team that relies heavily on their juniors.

Six of ASU’s regular starters are juniors with extensive experience on the field.

The Sun Devils come into the weekend winners of their last seven games after Oregon State swept them in Corvallis.

“During this streak we’ve been just fighting and competing like we know how,” ASU junior catcher Austin Barnes said. “And when you do those things with the talent we have, a lot of wins can come out of that. When we’re playing our game, I don’t think there is a team we can’t beat.”

Not including the three losses to the Beavers, ASU has won 11 of its 12 other conference games, including three sweeps.

“We were playing well before that trip too, but we didn’t push the panic button after the sweep,” Esmay said. “We just took care of the small things like putting pressure on the defense and working out how we want to run the bases. We didn’t come in and change everything, it was just one weekend and we moved forward.”

At the onset of the season, the No. 25 Cardinal (20-14, 5-7 Pac-10) were picked ahead of ASU in the preseason Pac-10 coaches’ poll, but an early season-ending injury to former freshman All-American pitcher Brett Mooneyham has hampered the team’s campaign.

Stanford will instead throw sophomore Mark Appel (3-4, 2.93 ERA), junior Jordan Pries (4-4, 3.44 ERA) and senior Danny Sandbrink (2-0, 2.64 ERA) against ASU.

Pries earned a win Feb. 27 against then-No. 3 and current No. 2 Vanderbilt by throwing seven innings of three hit, two run baseball.

The Sun Devils will counter with their regular weekend rotation of sophomore Brady Rodgers (5-2, 2.85 ERA), junior transfer Kramer Champlin (6-1, 2.78 ERA) and sophomore Jake Barrett (5-3, 4.55 ERA).

Since joining the program in the fall, Champlin has gone from a question mark to a consistent contributor.

He has two complete games already this season, including a shutout last weekend against then-No. 19 California.

“It took him a while to figure it out and the growth is tremendous,” Esmay said. “He has confidence and he knows to do what’s got him here. He competes whether he has his great stuff or not and he gives us a chance to win.”

ASU is in second place in the Pac-10, a half game behind OSU with four conference weekends remaining.

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