(Photo: Michael Baron/WCSN)
The Sun Devils have moved very little in the coaches’ poll all season. They’ve never fallen out of the rankings, but also have not cracked the top 20 once. However, this weekend is their chance to make a move.
No. 23 Arizona State will host the No. 10 Utah Utes for three games this weekend in what could be a season-defining series.
The Devils are fresh off a sweep of the Stanford Cardinal on the road, earning their first true road wins of the season. It was also their first sweep of Pac-12 play, which improved their conference record to 5-7 and their overall record to 26-12.
The Utes will come to Tempe 28-8 overall and 10-3 in Pac-12 play. They took two out of three games from No. 3 Arizona last weekend, which improved their record against ranked opponents to 9-3.
Every ranked team Utah has played was ranked higher than ASU, so the Sun Devils will have a tough challenge ahead. ASU has a 17-2 record at home though and can gain serious momentum with a series win, as its schedule gets tougher down the stretch run of the season.
The big matchups in this series will be in the pitcher’s circle. ASU and Utah rank third and fourth, respectively, in the Pac-12 in team ERA.
Utes ace Miranda Viramontes will be the pitcher to watch this series, as she ranks fourth among regular Pac-12 starters with a 1.27 ERA. She will have to battle ASU’s dynamic duo of juniors in Breanna Macha and Dale Ryndak, who have 1.59 and 1.80 ERA’s, respectively.
The biggest challenge for ASU will be to match Utah’s production at the plate. The Devils have a team batting average of .284, a stark contrast to Utah’s at .326.
ASU will look for seniors Chelsea Gonzales and Sashel Palacios to step up, as they have combined for a .350 batting average and 18 home runs this season. Sophomores Taylor Becerra and Skylar McCarty will look to maintain their level of production as well. The underclassmen duo has a combined .333 batting average this season.
The Devils tend to be a hit or miss team, as they have 41 home runs (good for 4th in the Pac-12) and more than twice as many as Utah, but have struck out 201 times, the second most in the conference.
The key for ASU will be good contact hitting, in tandem with strong outings from Macha and Ryndak.
On the flip side, Utah will look to continue the solid hitting that’s gotten them so many victories against top teams. The Utes are led by senior infielders Hannah Flippen and Anissa Urtez, who have combined the to hit an impressive .429 this season, a step above ASU’s leading senior hitters.
The Sun Devils are in for a challenge for their first home series against a ranked opponent all year. They will look for Farrington Stadium to continue to be a place where they consistently win as it has been all season.
The series opener will be Friday at 7 p.m. in Tempe.