Baseball looks to bounce back against Oregon State

In the cutthroat Pac-12, which has long been considered one of the best baseball conferences in the nation, nearly every series is a dogfight.

For No. 23 ASU, this weekend’s series against No. 17 Oregon State at Packard Stadium will be a key turning point in the Sun Devils’ quest for a Pac-12 title.

ASU (16-12, 3-6 Pac-12) was swept by then-No.23 Oregon in Eugene last weekend and sees this three-game set with the Beavers (18-8, 16-3 Pac-12) as an opportunity to make up lost ground in the conference standings. The Sun Devils currently sit in ninth place, with UA (21-7, 7-2 Pac-12) and UCLA (20-5, 7-2 Pac-12) four games ahead and tied for the No. 1 spot.

“This series is huge,” junior catcher Max Rossiter said. “With the (Pac-12), there’s so many good teams, and each team just beats up on one another each weekend. In a home series, you’re looking to sweep, but at the minimum, you’re looking just to win the series.”

Driving in runners — and reaching base in general — proved to be a problem for the team against the Ducks, as ASU scored just four runs and stranded 18 runners in the sweep.

Needless to say, the Sun Devils are seeking to regain their moxie in the box against OSU.

“We’re really not trying to do too much, and when we get the opportunity with runners in scoring position, we’ve got to execute,” sophomore outfielder Kasey Coffman said. “When we get opportunities with less than two outs and runners in scoring position, we’ve really got to drive them in.”

OSU also has some dangerous sticks of its own, as junior infielder Tyler Smith (.463, 23 RBI) and freshman leftfielder Michael Conforto (.359, six HR, 34 RBI) both carry eight-game hit streaks into Tempe.

The Beavers, who are riding a three-game winning streak, will take on an ASU team that has the experience to deal with the recent setback in Eugene.

“(Our confidence is) shaken a little bit,” Rossiter said. “Whenever you go on the road and get swept, it’s going to mess with your confidence. We’re a close team and we’ve all been playing baseball for a long time. We’ve all been swept, (and) we’ve all been through this, so we’ll know how to bounce back.”

OSU will have its work cut out offensively, because despite ASU’s four-game losing skid — the program’s longest since May 2005 — the Sun Devils’ arms have been solid. ASU’s pitching staff has a 4.00 ERA over those four losses and has already established itself as one of the deepest in the conference.

After using only 11 pitchers in all of 2011, the Sun Devils have already trotted out 15 different hurlers to the bump this season.

“Our pitching’s been solid all year,” Rossiter said. “(In Oregon), there weren’t any blowouts. Our pitchers kept us in the game, every game.”

Even when the Sun Devils fall behind, they know that the guys out on the hill will keep them in a position to eventually have a chance to win.

“It feels good to know that we’re always one or two runs away,” Rossiter said. “We’re never chasing a big lead, which is nice as an offense. It’s always easy to come up with a couple runs as opposed to five or six.”

With more timely hits, it should be difficult for OSU to limit the Sun Devils’ scoring this weekend, considering the ASU lineup is putting up good numbers. ASU leads the Pac-12 in home runs (21) and total bases (415), and is second in hits (276) and RBI (161).

However, the team is fourth in runs scored with 168. Not surprisingly, the conference-leading Wildcats and Bruins are first and second, respectively, in that category.

“We still believe heavily in what (Esmay) is preaching, and (the scoring) is going to happen sooner or later,” Coffman said. “I think our offense is going to explode one of these days. It’s only a matter of time.”

Thursday and Friday’s first pitch will be at 6:30 p.m., while Saturday’s contest is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Brady Rodgers (4-1, 1.29 ERA), Trevor Williams (5-2, 1.51 ERA) and Darin Gillies (0-3, 4.44 ERA) are all scheduled to start for the Sun Devils this weekend.


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