(Photo: Michael Baron/WCSN)
Game 42: Arizona State at the University of Arizona
The Sun Devils are set to take on their Territorial Cup rival, the University of Arizona Wildcats, in a three-game series in Tucson. ASU is coming off of two one-run losses to the Utah Utes, while the Wildcats lost 4-3 to the Oregon Ducks last weekend.
The Wildcats are boasting a 45-4 overall record and Arizona State is currently 27-14 this season.
“For us, its practice and an opportunity for us to come out and really learn and get better,” ASU head coach Trisha Ford said. “I thought the Utah series we did that. We did a lot of good things. We couldn’t quite get over the hunt in the last two games, but I thought they were great games.”
The Wildcats are holding on to the first place position in the Pac-12 with their 15-3 conference record and the Sun Devils are in 6th as they are 6-9.
“For us it’s a great opportunity. Really, going into this weekend, we’ve got nothing to lose,” Ford said. “The great thing about the Pac-12 conference is that you get to play and it gets you ready for postseason. All these teams are going to make a deep run that are in the top of the Pac conference standings, with Arizona obviously being at the top.”
The Wildcats lead the Pac-12 in several categories including team batting average with .346 as well as home runs with 82.
Multiple U of A players are at the top of the conference in individual statistics as well. Senior shortstop Mo Mercado is fourth in the Pac-12 with a .407 batting average. Two other Wildcats, senior Mandie Perez and junior Ashleigh Hughes, are behind her in seventh place with a .396 and 10th with a .384 respectively.
“You can look at it like it’s going to be a lot of work, or you can look at it as an opportunity to really put your name on the books,” Ford said.
Additionally, Wildcat senior Katiyana Magua is first in home runs in the conference, and she is in friendly competition with her freshmen teammates Jessie Harper, who is in second with 16, and Alyssa Palomino, who is in 3rd with 15.
“We’ve just got to keep going out and playing our game and whatever happens, happens,” Ford said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to control the things we can control.”
For Arizona State, senior Chelsea Gonzales is featured in the top ranks of the Pac-12 as she is 14th in batting average with a .374 and ninth in total bases with 90.
Sophomore Fa Leilua is also fifth overall in number of walks as she has 23 on the season.
Arizona leads the conference in strikeouts with 215, but it does not outweigh Arizona State in all matters related to pitching.
“You take it one pitch at a time. Good pitching always beats good hitting,” Ford said. “The thing that Arizona does is it’s not just one or two that you have to worry about. Their team batting average is well over .300 and that says a lot. So for us, we’ve got to make big pitches and every pitch is going to be big.”
Sun Devil junior Breana Macha has 1.52 ERA and is tied with Wildcat sophomore Taylor McQuillin for sixth place. Macha’s fellow junior Dale Ryndak also graces the top ten in that category as her 1.88 ERA has her in eighth place.
“Our pitching, if you look at their numbers and I know these last couple of weeks they’ve got hit a little bit more, if you look at their numbers last year compared to this year, they’ve done a phenomenal job,” Ford said. “That takes a lot. This is year three that Macha and Dale are being seen and they’ve done a great job at reinventing themselves.”
A rivalry of the past, present and future
Last year, the Sun Devils lost the series to the Wildcats, but were able to take the last game by a score of 3-2. All of the games were low-scoring defeats as the first ended 2-0 and the second 5-4.
No matter the result, Ford’s main focus is the continued progression of the team as it approaches the postseason.
“We’re much more of a cohesive team as a bullpen,” she said. “They’re here for each other and I’ve really seen a lot of growth with that.”
Nonetheless, the Sun Devils and their coach know this is a huge rivalry and want their focus to reflect the game’s expected intensity.
“I laughed at the beginning of the year because this will be the first time that the Arizona State and the U of A coach actually get along,” Ford said. “That’s for them to deal with. My job is to prep our team to get them mentally, physically and emotionally ready. The rivalry will take care of itself, but it means a little bit more.”