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ASU upsets No.2 Arkansas in Coca Cola Classic opener

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No. 24 Arizona State upset No. 2 Arkansas 3-2 in the first game of the Coca-Cola Classic in Surprise on Thursday.  The game featured great pitching from both Sun Devil freshman Brett Lilek and Arkansas’ All-American ace Ryne Stanek.

Lilek made his first career start and recorded his first career win. He did so in particularly impressive fashion by beating out a top-five draft prospect in Stanek.

In five innings, Lilek allowed one run on seven hits and struck out six while not giving up a walk.  Going into this game, Lilek had struck out six and walked seven in relief.  Lilek looked more like a seasoned veteran than a first-time starter, keeping his composure and poise even in tough situations.

The Illinois native pitched lights-out under pressure.  In the bottom of the second inning, the bases were loaded with no outs, but Lilek struck out the side to get out of the inning unscathed.

“That inning was a game-changer,” said head coach Tim Esmay after the game. “You gotta remember, this kid’s pitching against Chicago high school kids last year, and here he is against Arkansas pitching in the second inning with bases jammed and he comes out and strikes out the side.”

Lilek’s only earned run came in the fifth inning, but with the bases loaded again with one out the freshman still kept his composure. He induced a fly-out and a groundout to end the inning with minimal damage done.

Alex Blackford pitched a one-hit, one-strikeout inning in the sixth before freshman Ryan Burr finished the game. Burr struck out four and walked two while only allowing one hit and one run.

Arkansas’ Ryne Stanek may be one of the nation’s best pitchers, but ASU hitters had his number.  Catcher Max Rossiter reached base safely for his seventh straight game, and second baseman James McDonald extended his hitting streak to seven games.  McDonald also drove in two runs to add to his team-leading nine RBIs.

“He is a veteran,” Esmay said of McDonald. “ We gotta live off some of our older guys who give us some grind-out at bats so these young freshman settle in a little bit.”

The Sun Devils still have three games to play in the Coca-Cola Classic: Friday against Pacific with ace Trevor Williams on the mound, Saturday in a rematch with Arkansas behind the arm of freshman phenomenon Ryan Kellogg, and finishing Sunday with Gonzaga with sophomore Adam McCreery getting the start.

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