(Photo: Gabrielle Mercer/WCSN)
After completing its second sweep in three series to begin the 2016 season, Arizona State (8-3) hits the road for one of its toughest matchups before Pac-12 conference play against the Cal State Fullerton Titans (6-4).
The Sun Devils will return to Goodwin Field for the first time since their 2015 season came to a disappointing close against Pepperdine in the Fullerton regional of last year’s NCAA tournament. The season-ending loss was preceded by a heartbreaking 14-inning loss to the Titans, with the winning run coming on a bases-loaded walk issued by Eder Erives.
Both teams look very different since the last time they met, with the Titans losing key figures in their starting rotation and bullpen to the MLB Draft similar to the Sun Devils.
Thomas Eshelman, who baffled ASU for nine innings while throwing an absurd 143 pitches in their postseason meeting, was signed by the Houston Astros. The Titans lost another starter in Justin Garza along with closer Tyler Peitzmeier, who racked up 16 saves along with a 2.56 ERA in 2015.
Eshelman’s absence is being filled beautifully so far this season by freshman Colton Eastman, who is 3-0 in three starts while boasting a 1.85 ERA and averaging 8.05 strikeouts per nine innings.
Along with Eastman, junior Blake Quinn, a transfer from Fresno State, has performed well in his three starts with a .140 batting average against and just eight hits surrendered in 17 innings.
The Titans offense, which is batting only .223 collectively, is led by senior outfielders Dalton Blaser and Josh Vargas. Blaser holds a .385 average but has only one RBI so far. Vargas, coming off a junior season where he batted .332 with an on-base percentage of .432, has struggled out of the gate batting just .242 in nine games. The largest run producer on the team is sophomore catcher Chris Hudgins with five driven in.
A season after claiming their 15th Big West Conference title and making it to the College World Series, the Titans have had a less-than-stellar start to 2016, currently sitting at 6-4 and in sixth place in the conference. They are, however, coming off a series win on the road against Texas Tech.
The Sun Devils come into the series on a high note after taking all three games this past weekend against the Eastern Michigan Eagles. Their potent offense looks to be finding its stride with junior designated hitter Sebastian Zawada coming off a monster weekend against the Eagles.
The junior college transfer from South Mountain Community College had the walk-off RBI single in Saturday night’s 4-3 win, then followed that up by crushing two home runs and bringing home five runs in Sunday’s 8-1 victory. He now is second on the team in RBI with 11 behind shortstop Colby Woodmansee who has 15.
Sun Devil head coach Tracy Smith will give senior utility man Jordan Aboites the start on the mound in Tuesday’s matchup, his first action since being placed on an indefinite suspension for “violation of team standards” after the Long Beach State series concluded on Feb. 28. Sophomore Grant Schneider, who was suspended indefinitely for the same reason as Aboites, did not travel with the team to Fullerton and is officially listed as “day-to-day.” No starter has been announced by Smith for Wednesday.
This series will be the 62nd and 63rd meetings all time between the two teams, with ASU holding a slight 31-30 edge up to this point. First pitch for both games is scheduled for 6 PM PST/7 PM MST.
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