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ASU Baseball Prepares for Coca-Cola Classic

Trever Allen is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week and he will need to pull out some more magic this weekend as ASU travels to Surprise for a non-conference tournament.

Photo: ASU Athletics

Sun Devils baseball has a big weekend ahead of them at the Coca-Classic and the team takes on No. 1 Arkansas on Thursday and Saturday afternoon.

The University of the Pacific Tigers (3-4) and Gonzaga Bulldogs (4-4) join the Razorbacks (7-1) and Sun Devils (4-2) in Surprise for a weekend full of scouting potential.

ASU has won six of the last nine outings against Arkansas, most notably in the 2011 Regional and twice in the 2010 Super Regional in Tempe. The Sun Devils forced 12 innings of work against the Razorbacks in the Super Regional match-ups.

However, this time around things will be a little different. Head coach Tim Esmay is planning on using two freshmen starters to blank the team from the SEC. Freshman lefty Brett Lilek will start the tournament off on Thursday because Esmay wants to keep his weekend rotation in tact to give his players one extra day of rest.

Lilek has been utilized out of the bullpen in his first two collegiate weekends and he has thrown a 2.25 ERA in eight innings of work, third only to Trevor Williams and Saturday starter Ryan Kellogg. The clear number to watch out for is the fact that the Illinois native has a 6-7 strikeout-walk ratio in the early point of the season and this will be his fourth appearance in seven games.

He will be pitching against junior Ryne Stanek, one of Arkansas' best pro potential prospects on the mound so Lilek's first career start will not be an easy victory.

Kellogg is scheduled to throw on Saturday as he has emerged as one of the best Sun Devils on the bump. A 2-0 record to go along with a 1.00 ERA and ten strikeouts are all dazzling numbers. He looks to punish Arkansas with his command.

Trevor Williams and Adam McCreery will pitch against Pacific and Gonzaga respectively. In order for Esmay to get two wins this weekend in order to pass the 350 career win milestone, the offense will need to be present in the larger Surprise Stadium.

Keep in mind that this stadium is home of the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals during Spring Training so it's a full sized MLB ballpark. Don't expect too many long bombs this weekend (if there even are any), but do ask for a big effort for some of the returners. The Sun Devils pitching staff has not allowed a four-bagger yet this season.

James McDonald, Kasey Coffman and Max Rossiter have all reached base safely in six consecutive games to open the 2013 season. We saw shortstop Drew Stankiewicz explode against Bethune Cookman to open the season and then Trever Allen belted two home runs last weekend and was ultimately given the nod as the Pac-12 Player of the Week.

Some interesting facts coming into this weekend of games is that 12 true freshman have all seen time on the diamond and six of those players have started at least one game. Don't forget about Ryan Burr in the pen who has thrown five scoreless innings or Tony DiMartino who has one of ASU's five team home runs. With four consecutive games at a neutral site, you can expect to see plenty of freshmen playing for the maroon and gold.

Let's not look past No. 1 Arkansas as they come in with quite a few studs in both aspects of the game. The Razorbacks are 14-16 on the season in stealing bases as seven different players have recorded a stolen base and of the players who have started in at least six games, six of them have batting averages at or above .350.

Arkansas has arguably the best bullpen in the country so the Sun Devils and others will need to capitalize in the earlier innings before some of the MLB prospects take the mound who do not surrender many walks.

Pacific and Gonzaga just played each other last weekend and they split the series at one game apiece. Tiger senior Tyger Pederson leads the offensive charge with a .333 batting average, one round-tripper, seven RBIs, a stolen base and a triple. He has a combination of pop and speed that makes him an attractive hitter in the heart of the order.

For the Bulldogs, pitcher Tyler Olsen could be one to watch due to his high strikeout numbers and he has already thrown a complete game this season and on offense, Mitchell Gunsclus has started all eight games and has a .344 batting average with 4 extra base hits.

The talent is certainly present in Surprise, but it would be that much sweeter if the Sun Devils could go back to Tempe with a winning record against their opponents. All games start at 4 p.m. Arizona time or immediately after a Rangers or Royals Spring Training game.