(Photo: Rob Werner/WCSN)
Two teams coming off momentum-boosting wins face off in a Pac-12 showdown at Phoenix Municipal Stadium this weekend.
The Arizona State Sun Devils (11-12, 1-5 Pac-12) will take on the UCLA Bruins (11-11, 4-2 Pac-12) this weekend in a three-game series.
The Sun Devils are fresh off a win against the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels, in which the team came back from a 4-0 deficit to win the game 5-4. It wasn’t simply a special victory because ASU had come-from-behind, but because it was the also the night that ASU honored former Sun Devil legend, Barry Bonds.
The MLB Home Run King certainly motivated the Sun Devils ahead of their midweek game.
“It was really kind of funny to see these guys, literally their eyes wide open. And to really soak in what he said,” head coach Tracy Smith expressed after the win. “I can’t thank him enough for making that trip back here because he’s a busy guy, what he’s doing with now with the Giants, he didn’t have to do this. And he was genuine… He went above and beyond and I thought it was awesome.”
ASU isn’t the only team coming off an inspiring win. While the Sun Devils were battling against the Runnin’ Rebels to gain a hard-fought win, the Bruins had a feat of their own.
UCLA beat No. 10-ranked Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday evening at Jackie Robinson Stadium and is now on a five-game winning streak, including a sweep against Pac-12 rival UC Berkeley, last weekend.
The UCLA pitching staff is headed by Griffin Canning (1-1), who has pitched 39 and 2/3 innings, allowing 27 hits with 49 strikeouts. Canning will get the Friday-night start for the Bruins, with Moises Ceja and Jon Olsen following in games two and three respectively.
The three-projected starters against ASU have a combined 3.02 ERA and will test the ASU offense.
Sean Bouchard, UCLA’s junior first baseman has led the Bruins offense in 2017. Bouchard has posted a .341 batting average with five home runs, seven doubles and 21 RBI’s in 82 at-bats.
The Sun Devils pitchers will be challenged to keep the Bruins’ biggest offensive weapon off the base paths.
Eli Lingos (3-1), ASU’s ace, will take the mound for the Sun Devils on Friday night with freshman left-hander Chaz Montoya (2-1) making his second start of his college career against the Bruins on Saturday night. Montoya earned his first win of the season against USC last weekend as he went 5 and 2/3 innings allowing just two hits and two walks without surrendering a run.
More than just the result, Tracy Smith was thrilled to see Montoya pitch with some passion and grit.
“When it starts to click or becomes special is when there is a little bit of conviction, a little bit of competitiveness, throw the result out, ‘I’m just coming at you.’ The result happened to be good but more importantly for me he pitched with conviction and something to him,” Smith firmly stated. “I’ll live and die by that any day of the week.”
Smith is going with the hot-hand in Montoya, replacing Spencer Van Scoyoc (0-1) who had been pitching in the Saturday starter slot after right-hander Ryan Hingst was pulled from the starting rotation.
Smith hasn’t named his Sunday starter but it will mostly likely be Van Scoyoc. The issue to this point with Van Scoyoc hasn’t been his repertoire of pitches but rather his command. The highly-touted freshman recruit has “shown flashes” as Smith has said but needs to pitch more consistently to maintain a clear role.
For the ASU offense, freshman Hunter Bishop should see some time as the Devils’ leadoff hitter in this series and is now batting .302. Bishop’s offensive production along with fellow freshman Lyle Lin’s team-leading .356 batting average has been a pleasant surprise for Smith and Co. and those two will certainly make an impact as they lead the charge against UCLA.
Rob Werner is an ASU Baseball beat writer for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network. You can follow him and view his work on Twitter @robwerner28.