Baseball focuses on pitching for blackout game against USC

Winners of four of their last five, the No. 22 Sun Devils are looking to make another statement in conference play this weekend against USC.

The three-game set against the Trojans (19–11, 5–6 Pac-12) begins Friday, when ASU (20–13, 6–6 Pac-12) will debut its new uniforms during the blackout game at Packard Stadium.

“(We’re) coming off an emotional weekend against Oregon State,” said freshman pitcher Darin Gillies, ASU’s Sunday starter. “It’s a big weekend for us to send a message to the rest of the teams in the Pac-12 that we’re a contender this year and that we’re a strong team.”

If the success of the football team’s blackout game against Missouri last season is any indication, Packard is sure to be alive this weekend for USC — a team that Sun Devil fans aren’t too fond of.

“It’s fun to have new uniforms,” Gillies said. “It’s going to bring some energy to the park. I hope the fans get into it, and I hope that everybody’s really excited about it just like we are.”

The Sun Devils’ offense has found its rhythm since struggling two weekends ago at Oregon. The offense is first in the Pac-12 in home runs (24) and total bases (484), second in hits (325) and is becoming more and more in sync with the pitching staff as the season progresses.

“Offensively, we’ve been picking it up lately, which is good to see,” Gillies said. “(Position players) have really started to play well, so we’re just going to try to continue to pitch well.”

Junior Brady Rodgers (5–1, 1.12 ERA) is scheduled to take the hill Friday and sophomore Trevor Williams (6–2, 1.65 ERA) will start Saturday. Rodgers and Williams are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the conference’s ERA standings. As a whole, the ASU pitching staff has a 2.77 overall ERA — best in the Pac-12 — which means the Sun Devils have a good chance to win every time they step on the diamond.

“I feel like we’re settled in,” Gillies said. “Each time (we play), we’re just going out there trying to throw strikes and trying to keep the team in the ballgame.”

The Trojans are led by senior first baseman Matt Foat, who is second in on-base percentage in the Pac-12 (.515) and tied for third in batting average (.402). USC sits in fourth place in the conference standings, just one spot behind ASU.

After the 15–6 blowout at the hands of unranked New Mexico on Tuesday night, the Sun Devils know they can’t take any team lightly, ranked or not.

“I think the biggest thing we learned (in New Mexico) is that anybody can beat you on any given day,” Gillies said. “You have to play well all the time.”

Friday and Saturday’s contests will begin at 6:30 p.m., and Sunday’s game is set to start at 12:30 p.m. In addition to the blackout game, ASU’s take from the traditional 50-50 Raffle from that evening will be donated to the Cory Hahn Fund.

Reach the reporter at kjnewma2@asu.edu

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