(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
After all the ups and downs of the 2016 season, one of the goals set by any team in college baseball is within reach for Arizona State.
As they welcome the USC Trojans to Phoenix Municipal Stadium for the final series of the season, the Sun Devils (15-12 Pac-12 record) sits two games behind the conference-leading Utah Utes (17-10) and one game behind the Washington Huskies (16-11). The Sun Devils can clinch a share of the Pac-12 title if they sweep the series from the Trojans, and the Huskies take two out of three in their matchup with the Utes.
Head coach Tracy Smith will attempt to get the series started on the right foot when he gives the ball to his junior ace Seth Martinez (9-3, 2.04 ERA). The Trojan lineup does have notable performers, such as senior outfielder David Oppenheim, leading the team with a .385 average, 35 walks and a .493 on-base percentage, to go along with 24 RBI.
The main run producers for USC have been infielder AJ Ramirez (42 RBI), outfielder Timmy Robinson (40 RBI) and catcher Jeremy Martinez (39 RBI).
Trojan head coach Dan Hubbs will give the Friday night start to redshirt junior Joe Navilhon (5-4, 3.38 ERA, 76 hits in 74 2/3 innings), followed by senior Kyle Davis (5-8, 4.70 ERA, .276 batting average against). Davis will be opposed by Sun Devil senior Jordan Aboites, boasting a 6-1 record in seven starts. Neither team has announced their starting pitcher for Sunday’s finale.
The switch for Aboites from Sunday to Saturday comes with the series win the biggest priority. The Devils cannot afford to put the cart b and use Aboites, one of their hotter hands of late, at the end of the weekend.
The Trojans bullpen could be their biggest strength for the weekend in attempting to play spoiler to the Sun Devils’ title hopes. Led by Marc Huberman (1.99 ERA, .179 BAA,) and Brooks Kriske (six saves, 41 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings), the Sun Devils will be wise to try and get the jump on the Trojan starters early before the Trojan relievers can make their mark on the game.
First pitch for Friday and Saturday is scheduled for 7 PM, and first pitch for Sunday’s finale is scheduled for 2 PM.
Bobby Kraus is a baseball beat writer for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network, you can follow him on Twitter @bobbykraus22